Penrith Panthers v Parramatta Eels
TIO Stadium, Darwin
Kick-off: 7.30pm Saturday (Sydney time)
Penrith Panthers shape up for another Battle of the West showdown, energised by a spirited display against reigning premiers South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Yet another season ending injury, this time to winger Robert Jennings, has forced coach Ivan Cleary to reshuffle the backline. Lewis Brown has been named to start in the centres alongside Isaah Yeo, seeing Waqa Blake shifted to the wing. Bryce Cartwright comes in to the starting side while Apisai Koroisau takes his place on the bench alongside Leilani Latu, who will be looking to build on his impressive debut last weekend.
Cleary and his side take plenty of confidence from their performance against South Sydney despite the tough result, as they cling on to a slim chance of featuring in finals football.
Parramatta Eels are coming off three straight losses including a 10-point loss to Gold Coast Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on Monday night. Coach Brad Arthur has recalled New South Wales representative winger William Hopoate and centre Brad Takairangi to the side, with Vai Toutai and Bureta Faraimo dropping out. The enigmatic Corey Norman also returns at five-eighth for former Panther Joseph Paulo, who is named 18th man.
The last time the two sides met was in Round 12 this season when Matt Moylan suffered his serious ankle injury and the Eels clung on to a 26-20 win at Pepper Stadium. However history favours the Panthers, who have won six of their last nine encounters with the Eels. It should also be noted Parramatta haven’t won the double over Penrith in a single season since 2005.
In what promises to be a physical encounter between these rivals, two of the game’s most promising forwards in Bryce Cartwright and Tepai Moeroa could be key to their respective sides prevailing in the middle of the park.
Cartwright has enjoyed a breakthrough season for Penrith, receiving plaudits for his running game, ball-playing ability and signature offload. It was in this fixture earlier this season that Cartwright earned many of his admirers and his skills were on show again against South Sydney. The 20-year-old crossed for a try and ran for 142 metres, as well as making two offloads and two line-breaks, despite playing off the bench.
He will line up in the back-row against Moeroa, who has developed a reputation as being one of the hardest hitting forwards in the game. Still only 19 years of age, Moeroa has become a key weapon for the Eels with his size and strength making an impact in both attack and defence.