Panthers vs Bulldogs
Saturday 20 June
Penrith Panthers face the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Saturday with both sides struggling for consistent form and desperate for a win to force their way back into the top eight.
The Panthers have been boosted for the clash by the return of key playmaker Jamie Soward from his shoulder injury, allowing coach Ivan Cleary to name his first-choice halves combination.
Soward’s ability to take pressure off halfback Peter Wallace, along with his incisive kicking game, should help Penrith rediscover the spark in attack which was sorely missing in their last-start loss to the Storm.
Unable to find the try line that night at Pepper Stadium, their disjointed performance demonstrated the difficulty of forming combinations in an injury-ravaged side.
The Panthers, currently 9th on the NRL table, have since made full use of the bye week to thoroughly assess their first half of the season, discuss some hard truths and re-focus for the run to the finals.
Tyrone Peachey drops back to the bench for Penrith and is joined by veteran forward Nigel Plum, who has shaken off a back complaint which kept him sidelined two weeks ago. Adam Docker and Sam Anderson are the players that make way.
Penrith’s opponents, the Bulldogs, are also a team under pressure with only six wins for the year leaving them in 11th place on the table.
Their Origin-depleted line-up succumbed to the Gold Coast last week and, like the Panthers, their season has been disrupted by a mixture of injuries and suspensions.
Influential skipper James Graham re-joined their busy casualty ward after injuring his hamstring in the first half against the Titans and will miss another month of action.
The team named by Des Hasler earlier this week raised many eyebrows as the veteran coach failed to include any of the Bulldogs’ NSW Origin representatives – halfback Trent Hodkinson, centre Josh Morris, fullback Brett Morris and forwards Josh Jackson and David Klemmer.
However early indications suggest all five players made it through Wednesday’s Origin match relatively unscathed and are likely to take to the field against the Panthers.
However with Jamal Idris, Josh Mansour, Brent Kite and the Jennings brothers sidelined, it is a very different looking Penrith outfit which will shape up at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.