Thursday night marks the start of what will be a season-defining fortnight for the Sea Eagles when they take on a red-hot Panthers side who haven’t lost since the middle of June.
A golden chance to join the top eight went begging last week for Manly when they fell to the Roosters 26-16, despite dominating the possession count and playing against a side who were a man down for the final 18 minutes.
While they remain just one point back from the eighth-placed Rabbitohs heading into Round 24, they will almost definitely need to win one, if not both, of their next two games against the ladder-leading Panthers and third-ranked Warriors to remain a chance of playing beyond the regular season.
Penrith meanwhile remain on track to wrap up their second consecutive minor premiership, after making light work of the fourth-ranked Storm last week in a 26-6 win.
While their attack is humming, it’s what they are doing off the ball right now that is most impressive, with a run of six-straight games where they have leaked no more than 18 points and having given up just six in their last 160 minutes of football.
Penrith haven't lost to Manly since way back in June of 2018 and have won by at least 22 points in four of the last five meetings. Earlier this year the Panthers won 44-12 at BlueBet Stadium.
In eight games at 4 Pines Park this year the Sea Eagles have five wins.
Sea Eagles: The Sea Eagles are 1-17 with no late changes. Sean Keppie has overcome the back spasm that kept him out of last week's match and comes into the front row to fill the void left by Matt Lodge, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Roosters. Ben Trbojevic moves into the starting side and Kelma Tuilagi goes to the bench.
Panthers: A double blow on Wednesday with the club confirming Jarome Luai (illness) and Mitch Kenny had been ruled out. The Panthers have been granted an exemption to allow rookie Luke Sommerton to join the squad and make his NRL debut at hooker while Jack Cogger replaces Luai in the halves. A late switch on game day with Lindsay Smith starting in the front row and Moses Leota going to the bench.
Match: Sea Eagles v Panthers
Round 24 -
Fullback for Sea Eagles is number 1 Reuben GarrickFullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan Edwards
Winger for Sea Eagles is number 2 Jason SaabWinger for Panthers is number 2 Sunia Turuva
Centre for Sea Eagles is number 3 Brad ParkerCentre for Panthers is number 3 Zac Hosking
Centre for Sea Eagles is number 4 Tolutau KoulaCentre for Panthers is number 4 Stephen Crichton
Winger for Sea Eagles is number 5 Raymond Tuaimalo VaegaWinger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'o
Five-Eighth for Sea Eagles is number 6 Josh SchusterFive-Eighth for Panthers is number 18 Jack Cogger
Halfback for Sea Eagles is number 7 Daly Cherry-EvansHalfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan Cleary
Prop for Sea Eagles is number 8 Toafofoa SipleyProp for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-Harris
Hooker for Sea Eagles is number 9 Lachlan CrokerHooker for Panthers is number 26 Luke Sommerton
Prop for Sea Eagles is number 10 Sean KeppieProp for Panthers is number 15 Lindsay Smith
2nd Row for Sea Eagles is number 11 Haumole Olakau'atu2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Scott Sorensen
2nd Row for Sea Eagles is number 12 Ben Trbojevic2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Liam Martin
Lock for Sea Eagles is number 13 Jake TrbojevicLock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah Yeo
Interchange for Sea Eagles is number 14 Dean MattersonInterchange for Panthers is number 8 Moses Leota
Interchange for Sea Eagles is number 15 Aaron WoodsInterchange for Panthers is number 14 Soni Luke
Interchange for Sea Eagles is number 16 Kelma TuilagiInterchange for Panthers is number 16 Matthew Eisenhuth
Interchange for Sea Eagles is number 17 Ethan BullemorInterchange for Panthers is number 17 Jaeman Salmon
Replacement for Panthers is number 22 Liam Henry
Reserve for Sea Eagles is number 18 Jake Arthur
- Referee: Gerard Sutton
- Touch Judge: Darian Furner
- Touch Judge: Phil Henderson
- Senior Review Official: Ashley Klein
- Penrith have conceded just 242 points this season, 122 points less than the NRL’s next best defensive outfit, the Warriors.
- The Sea Eagles have kicked a competition-high five 40/20s this year, with hooker Lachlan Croker having three and Daly Cherry-Evans two.
- The Panthers’ back three all sit inside the top 10 for metres gained in 2023. Dylan Edwards leads, Brian To’o is second and Sunia Turuva sits 10th.
- The Sea Eagles last defeated the Panthers at 4 Pines Park in 2017.
- The Panthers have won their past seven games against the Sea Eagles.
- Sea Eagles centre Tolutau Koula has scored four tries in his past three games.
- Panthers winger Brian To’o has scored six tries in his past four games.
- The Sea Eagles have won only one from four against top-four opponents.
Match: Sea Eagles v Panthers
Round 24 -
Venue: 4 Pines Park, Sydney
Stats supplied by David Middleton, League Information Services, author of the official annual of the NRL.