Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders
Kick-off: 7pm Monday
Desperate to avoid the ignominy of the wooden spoon, Penrith Panthers head to the nation's capital to tackle Canberra Raiders on Monday night.
In what has been a horror season of injuries, Elijah Taylor will be missing for the final two rounds with a fractured hand he sustained in the clash against St George last Thursday. As a result, Waqa Blake comes into the side at centre and Isaah Yeo slots into a more natural position at lock. Apisai Koroisau is named alongside Jamie Soward in the halves, while Jeremy Latimore makes his 100th appearance in the NRL from the bench.
Coach Ivan Cleary would have been pleased with the impact of his bench against the Dragons. Leilani Latu continued his fine form since making his debut in Round 21, running for 130 metres and making 17 tackles. Fellow newcomer Tupou Sopoaga made 118 metres as well as 27 tackles, and Latimore chipped in with 124 metres and 26 tackles to round off a combative effort from the interchange.
The winner of Monday night's clash will dodge possibility of finishing with the wooden spoon, while it will become a real threat for the beaten side.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has been forced into one change from the side that was beaten 26-10 by Gold Coast Titans last weekend. The suspended Joey Leilua is replaced by Brenko Lee in the centres while former Panther Blake Austin again lines up at five-eighth for the home side.
The last time the two sides met was in Round 20 this season when the Raiders spoiled Elijah Taylor’s 100th NRL game, claiming a 34-24 win at Pepper Stadium. Previous to that, the Panthers had won three of the previous four clashes. The Raiders have not done the double over Penrith in a season since 2008.
The game will see two of the strongest wingers in the NRL line up directly against each other in Josh Mansour and Sisa Waqa. Despite both having injury-interrupted seasons, they remain vital to their respective teams' attack.
Since debuting for the Panthers in 2012, Mansour has established himself as one of the elite wingers in the game due to his finishing, offloading ability and strength running with the ball. Despite missing the start of the season, as well as the middle rounds of the competition, Mansour has shown glimpses of the form that led to him being selected for the Australian Four Nations squad in 2014. Having crossed the try line five times and averaging 145 metres per game this season, he will be hoping to continue that form against Canberra on Monday night.
Former Storm and Roosters winger Waqa has quickly become one of Canberra's key weapons with his ability to make metres due to his speed and strength. Averaging 111 metres per game and scoring five tries in his first season for the Raiders, Waqa poses a significant threat to the Panthers.