Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders
Kick-off: 2pm Sunday
Desperate to keep their season alive, Penrith Panthers return to Pepper Stadium on Sunday afternoon to face an equally-desperate Canberra Raiders.
Hooker James Segeyaro starts again after making his comeback against Melbourne last week, while Will Smith continues in the fullback position in place of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. David Simmons will make his return on the wing after missing a week through injury.
Despite being under an injury cloud, Bryce Cartwright is part of a six-man bench that includes Apisai Koroisau and Robert Jennings, as well as last-start try scorer Tyrone Peachey.
Coach Ivan Cleary will be hoping for sharp improvement in his side after being dismantled by a clinical Melbourne outfit at AAMI Park last Friday.
Penrith’s chances are aided by the return of experienced winger Simmons, who has scored seven tries in his past nine matches, as well as the rise in form of Sam McKendry. The Kiwi international has sparked the forward pack coming off the bench in the recent weeks, averaging nearly 130 metres and 25 tackles.
Panthers will be hoping to boost their chances of finals football at the expense of Canberra in front of a passionate crowd at Pepper Stadium. The club is donating $10 from every adult ticket, and $5 from every junior ticket, towards the Nepean Family Room at Nepean Hospital. Other initiatives for the day include MG’s Members March to the stadium and Fans on the Field after full-time.
The Raiders are coming off the back of a 21-20 golden point loss at home to Cronulla Sharks. Outside back Sisa Waqa misses out through injury this week, allowing playmaker Josh McCrone to return from reserve grade. The enigmatic Jack Wighton shifts to fullback after a short stint in the halves.
Penrith have enjoyed plenty of recent success against Canberra, winning five of the past seven encounters between the sides. It has been more than a year since they have faced off though – they last met in Round 10, 2014, when the Panthers claimed a 26-20 win at GIO Stadium.
The clash promises to be an exciting affair as Jamie Soward takes on former Panther Blake Austin. Both five-eighths are capable of moments of magic, with their speed and creativity key weapons for their respective sides.
Soward has rebuilt his career at the foot of the mountains, becoming a fan favourite and a vital cog in the side that ran deep into the finals last season.
He’ll line up against Doonside junior Austin, whose undeniable form this season has already seen him tipped to earn NSW selection next year. Austin has dazzled the competition with his speed and ability to find the line, leading to a tally of 13 tries in his debut season for the Raiders.