Premiers Penrith look to consolidate their spot at the top of the ladder and give their points differential a boost as they host a Bulldogs side down on troops and confidence.
The Bulldogs have conceded 224 points in their past five games and face a monumental task to try and contain a Panthers juggernaut that welcomes back superstar playmaker Nathan Cleary and a posse of Origin stars who were rested in Round 20.
Sitting one game clear of the Dragons and two clear of Wests Tigers, the Bulldogs have plenty of motivation to dig in and try to avoid a second wooden spoon in three years.
Apart from the Panthers this week and Raiders in Round 25, the blue and whites' remaining matches are against sides outside the eight so they will entertain hopes of some morale-boosting wins in the run home.
The Panthers showed off their incredible depth during the Origin period and with Cleary back to steer the ship they are in the box seat to become the first team since Parramatta in 1981-82-83 to claim three premierships on the trot.
Panthers: In-form centre Izack Tago withdrew from the squad an hour before kick-off with a leg injury and is replaced by Tyrone Peachey. The premiers are otherwise unchanged, with halfback Nathan Cleary returning after missing five games with a hamstring injury. Origin stars Stephen Crichton, Brian To'o, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo are all back on deck after they were rested from the Dolphins game.
Bulldogs: A heap of late changes headlined by a major spine reshuffle an hour before kick-off, which sees captain Reed Mahoney drop back to the bench, with Kyle Flanagan – who was originally named at halfback – the new starting hooker. Jake Averillo shifts to halfback and Hayze Perham joins the squad in jersey No.20 at fullback. Tevita Pangai Junior and Jayden Okunbor start in the second row after initially being named on the bench, with Jacob Preston out of the squad and Jackson Topine now the 18th man. Sam Hughes is the new face on the bench. Star back-rower Viliame Kikau (pectoral) and Josh Addo-Carr (hamstring) both dropped out of the squad on Saturday.
Match: Panthers v Bulldogs
Round 21 -
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan EdwardsFullback for Bulldogs is number 20 Hayze Perham
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Sunia TuruvaWinger for Bulldogs is number 2 Blake Wilson
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Stephen CrichtonCentre for Bulldogs is number 3 Jacob Kiraz
Centre for Panthers is number 22 Tyrone PeacheyCentre for Bulldogs is number 4 Paul Alamoti
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'oWinger for Bulldogs is number 5 Jeral Skelton
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Jarome LuaiFive-Eighth for Bulldogs is number 6 Matt Burton
Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan ClearyHalfback for Bulldogs is number 1 Jake Averillo
Prop for Panthers is number 8 Moses LeotaProp for Bulldogs is number 8 Max King
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Mitch KennyHooker for Bulldogs is number 7 Kyle Flanagan
Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-HarrisProp for Bulldogs is number 10 Raymond Faitala-Mariner
2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Scott Sorensen2nd Row for Bulldogs is number 16 Tevita Pangai Junior
2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Liam Martin2nd Row for Bulldogs is number 17 Jayden Okunbor
Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah YeoLock for Bulldogs is number 13 Corey Waddell
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Soni LukeInterchange for Bulldogs is number 9 Reed Mahoney
Interchange for Panthers is number 15 Lindsay SmithInterchange for Bulldogs is number 14 Harrison Edwards
Interchange for Panthers is number 16 Spencer LeniuInterchange for Bulldogs is number 15 Kurtis Morrin
Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Luke GarnerInterchange for Bulldogs is number 19 Samuel Hughes
Replacement for Panthers is number 18 Jack CoggerReplacement for Bulldogs is number 11 Jackson Topine
- Referee: Chris Butler
- Touch Judge: Dave Munro
- Senior Review Official: Adam Gee
- The Panthers have won their past five games against the Bulldogs by 12 points or more.
- The Bulldogs have conceded more points in their past five games than Penrith have for the season.
- The Panthers have won 32 of their past 35 games at BlueBet Stadium
- Bulldogs prop Tevita Pangai Jnr has scored four tries in his past four games against the Panthers.
- Panthers co-captain Nathan Cleary will make his 150th NRL appearance
- Bulldogs hooker Reed Mahoney has produced four 40-20 kicks in 2023 to lead the NRL in that category.
Match: Panthers v Bulldogs
Round 21 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
Stats supplied by David Middleton, League Information Services, author of the official annual of the NRL.