The ISP Panthers have only Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs standing in their way as they aim to make the Grand Final of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW competition on Sunday at Leichardt Oval.
The Panthers progressed to the Preliminary Final after finishing third on the ladder and handily swept aside the Warriors 36-20 in a Qualifying Final. They come up against the Bulldogs who finished a place behind in fourth and defeated the Dragons last week to progress.
Coach Garth Brennan once again masterminded victory despite having key strike weapons Tyrone May and Dean Whare recalled in to the NRL side.
Regular fullback Jarome Luai, deputising in the five-eighth role in May’s absence, was instrumental for his side with his crafty footwork and creativity a constant source of misery for the Warriors defence as he scored a double and had a hand in two others.
Luai will once again line-up in the halves alongside competition top scorer Darren Nicholls. Ron Massey Cup Fullback of the Year Mason Cerruto has been rewarded for his fine form by earning a call up to the team alongside free-scoring Fijian winger Maika Sivo.
NRL pedigree forwards Viliame Kikau and Sitaleki Akauola form part of an imposing pack, while Mitch Rein adds class and creativity from dummy-half. Promising youngsters Jed Cartwright, Kaide Ellis, Liam Martin and Corey Waddell are also named to start.
They square up against a Bulldogs side that were unbeaten in five straight games to close out the regular season, before falling to Wyong Roos in a Qualifying Final. They regrouped last week and overcame a sluggish start to roll the Dragons 32-14 and keep their season alive.
Much like the Panthers, the Bulldogs boast plenty of NRL experience within their ranks. Four of the five players in their backline have had a taste of First Grade, as well as Asipeli Fine, Craig Garvey, Francis Tualau and former Panthers junior Andy Saunders.
Confidence in the Bulldogs camp will be high after completing a double over the Panthers during the regular season. They last met in Round 13 when the Bulldogs prevailed 14-4 in a dour affair at ANZ Stadium. Their other victory came in Round 5 when they shot out to an 18-6 lead at the break and held on after Dylan Edwards and Lachlan Stein scored second-half tries to finish 18-14.