Hostplus Match Preview: Round 24
Another compelling instalment of the blossoming new-age rivalry between the Panthers and Canberra Raiders takes place this Sunday in the nation's capital.
Two sides who were heavily backed to challenge at the top end of the ladder after breakout seasons in 2016 have struggled to meet expectations with both teams currently locked in a five-way battle to make it in to the finals.
The Panthers eventually overcame their sluggish start to 2017 and have climbed up the ladder to lead the chase for a finals berth. A mid-season resurgence similar to a season ago, including ten wins from their past twelve games, has them sitting in sixth and poised to repeat their efforts of charging in to September.
The Raiders are still reeling from a mid-season slump that saw them slip to five defeats from six games. That left them four points adrift of eighth place and relying on a Panthers-like winning streak, plus other results to go their way, to come in to finals contention.
The Panthers continued their winning ways against the Cowboys last Saturday to leapfrog the chasing pack with a 24-16 win. Boom halfback Nathan Cleary once again led from the front with another instrumental performance, including two tries and four conversions.
Anthony Griffin has been forced in to one change after Peter Wallace suffered a broken hand during the game, with Sione Katoa named as his replacement. Trent Merrin is listed amongst the reserves after returning to training midweek and is an outside chance to make a comeback from a knee injury sustained against the Warriors a month ago.