Penrith Panthers NYC v Manly Sea Eagles NYC
ANZ Stadium
Kickoff 3.10pm Saturday

The minor premiers Penrith Panthers tackle Manly Sea Eagles in the first Qualifying Final of the Holden Cup on Saturday at ANZ Stadium.

Cameron Ciraldo’s side clinched top spot in the final round of the competition after defeating Newcastle Knights 36-18, while North Queensland Cowboys went down to Gold Coast to finish one point behind on the ladder.

Ciraldo will be buoyed with the return of some key players at this crucial time of the season. James Fisher-Harris is back in the side after a stint with NSW Cup, Paea Pua is fit-again after injury and Jarome Luai is eligible after serving a one-game suspension. However he will be without Corey Waddell, who sustained a serious knee injury in Saturday’s win over Newcastle.

The gun trio of Fisher-Harris, Pua and Luai return to a side in blistering form, led by halfback Nathan Cleary. The young playmaker was outstanding against Newcastle, laying-off two try assists and scoring two himself,  to add to his measured kicking game that constantly pressured the Knights’ defence.

Having only joined the team midway through the season, Cleary has slotted in with aplomb alongside halves partner Luai, in steering a side that has won nine of its last ten matches.

Cleary and Luai will have to produce their best this weekend against a Manly outfit that was won four consecutive matches and welcomes back Tom Trbojevic after his starring role for the Sea Eagles’ NRL side.

Trbojevic has been a revelation for Manly this season, scoring a lofty 18 tries in just 10 Holden Cup appearances, along with his eight tries in nine NRL matches. His speed and agility has been a trademark this season, averaging 261 metres and 2.6 line breaks per game in NYC including a phenomenal 485 metres and four try haul against New Zealand Warriors in Round 20.

Trbojevic’s form wasn’t enough the last time the two sides met, however, as Penrith ran out convincing winners 42-16 in Round 10 at St Mary’s Leagues Stadium. That triumph was in addition to Penrith’s Round 6 victory over Manly at Pepper Stadium, winning 36-16 on that occasion.

The winner of this match will go straight to a Preliminary Final and enjoy next week off, while the defeated team will have to play a Semi Final against either Wests Tigers or Canberra Raiders.