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Hostplus Match Preview: Semi Final

John Shamon

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The Panthers face their biggest test of the season when they tackle the Broncos in Brisbane as Anthony Griffin goes head-to-head against his former side on Friday night in a blockbuster Semi Final.

They booked their spot in the second week of the finals after overcoming Manly Sea Eagles in a bruising encounter last Saturday and will face a fired up Broncos outfit that let a late lead slip against the Roosters to miss out on a week's break.

The Panthers were boosted by the return of Dylan Edwards who recovered from a medial ligament tear a fortnight earlier than expected. He again takes his place at fullback in what is an unchanged line up to the one that triumphed 22-10 over Manly.

Dean Whare also retains his place in the centres after shifting from fullback and putting in a flawless display against his former side, while Bryce Cartwright will be hoping to once again prove the difference after a match-winning performance a week prior.

Wayne Bennett has also stuck with the same side as a week ago after seeing his team concede a late try to the Roosters and forfeit the opportunity for a week’s rest. However, Bennett looks set to bring in captain Darius Boyd from the reserves list, which could see incumbent fullback Kodi Nikorima drop back to the bench and David Mead miss out.

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Griffin’s men stood tall in the face of critics and doubters against a brash Sea Eagles outfit and completed a momentous turnaround after being humbled in the final round of the regular season by the same opposition.

A rugged team performance set the platform for the Panthers, allowing two classy young starlets to deliver the telling blows.

Nathan Cleary continued to mesmerise the competition despite his infancy in the top grade with an elite kicking game that blunted the threat of Manly’s backline. His 706 kicking metres pinned the Sea Eagles deep in their own end to start each set and allowed his side to apply pressure with their defence.

Meanwhile, after a rollercoaster campaign, Cartwright produced a potentially season-defining performance that showed glimpses of the form had seen him tipped for State of Origin honours a season ago. His silky running and ball handling added another dimension to the Panthers attack, while his two tries came at critical times to provide the difference.

The Broncos were equally as gritty in their loss against the Roosters and looked to have clinched an improbable victory after being on the back foot for much of the game. Corey Oates crossed over inside the final ten minutes to give his side the lead, only to be denied by a moment of Latrell Mitchell magic moments later.

Destructive centre-pairing Tautau Moga and James Roberts will pose a significant threat on the edges playing outside skilled backrowers Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett. Moga ran for a game-high 178 metres against the Roosters, over 30 metres above his season average, while Roberts scored his second try in as many weeks to take his season’s tally to 17.

Despite the ground disadvantage, the Panthers can be confident thanks to a favourable record over the Broncos in recent years. With five wins in their past eight matches, the Panthers hold the wood over the Broncos.

In their only meeting this season, the Broncos pounced on a slow start by the Panthers to record a 32-18 victory. However, the Panthers can draw on their performance at Suncorp Stadium last year when they celebrated Trent Merrin’s 150th NRL game with a five try to two romping en route to a 31-12 win.

See the Panthers train before the game.