Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights
Pepper Stadium
Kick-off 3pm Saturday

Desperate to avoid the wooden spoon and finish the season with a win, a patched-up Penrith Panthers outfit tackles Newcastle Knights at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary originally named an unchanged line-up to that which went down to Canberra on Monday night. However Jamie Soward (concussion) and Bryce Cartwright (lacerated kidney) have since been ruled out, meaning hooker Sione Katoa and versatile forward Chris Smith are in line to make their NRL debuts.

It is an all too familiar scenario for Cleary, who will finish the season with a full starting team on the sideline. Regardless, the veteran coach will demand a big performance from his youngsters to avoid the indignity of finishing at the foot of the ladder and to send off several departing players in style.

David Simmons (retiring), Lewis Brown (Manly), Apisai Koroisau (Manly) and Sika Manu (Hull FC) will run out at Pepper Stadium in Panthers colours for the final time.

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With some of Penrith's most creative playmakers out injured, James Segeyaro’s performance on Monday night will give Panthers fans a glimmer of hope. The electrifying hooker has had a stunted season due to injury but showed gilmpses of his best against the Raiders, scoring a try and being a constant threat with the ball in hand. He backed it up with a typically tough defensive effort making 45 tackles.

Newcastle Knights come into the match a rejuvenated side since club legend Danny Buderus took charge, having won two of their past three matches and going down 20-18 in a tough battle against the Bulldogs last weekend. Buderus has made one change to his side, recalling Adam Clydsdale in place of Danny Levi, with Tyler Randell dropping back to the bench.

Recent clashes between the two sides have largely gone in Newcastle's favour, with the Knights winning six of the past eight encounters. The most recent match was in Round 4 this season when the Knights ran out 26-14 winners at Hunter Stadium, despite the Panthers dominating for large periods throughout the game.

This weekend’s fixture will see NRL stalwart David Simmons come up against newcomer Nathan Ross in an exciting battle on the wing. Celebrating his 200th game this weekend, Simmons has announced he will be retiring at the end of the season. Ross, meanwhile, has just broken through at the top level, having made his debut in Buderus’ first match in charge of the club.

A model professional and a clinical finisher, Simmons has been one of the most consistent wingers in the NRL since debuting for Cronulla in 2003. Despite starting the season sidelined with injury, he has managed to score an impressive nine times in twelve matches. Simmo will be hoping to cross the line again to celebrate his milestone game in front of a Panthers home crowd.

While Simmons reaches the end of his career, Newcastle rookie Ross is hoping to kick-start his. Named fullback of the year in the NSW Cup last season, he was handed his NRL debut against the Dragons in Round 21 and celebrated the occasion by scoring his first try. Blessed with plenty of pace and a big frame, he will undoubtedly be a handful for Simmons and the Panthers.