After almost pulling off a stunning comeback against Melbourne, Wests Tigers return home to host the Penrith Panthers at ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
It's the first time the sides will meet each other this season — before facing off again in Round 24 in Penrith — and while there might be several spots difference between them on the ladder, there doesn't appear much difference between the two young squads on show.
Recent history suggests the home side have the wood over the Panthers, winning seven of the last ten clashes, although the visitors have won the last two on opposition turf.
Last week, Wests Tigers were blown away in the first half against the Storm, but did well to return in the second and show some resilience to get the game back to 26-20 late on.
The reality of the result, though, means that Jason Taylor's men now sit four points outside the top eight with nine games remaining in the regular season (one of which is a bye).
They'll no doubt be desperate to get back in the winners circle this weekend and stay in touch with the top eight, and will welcome back several key players in timely fashion.
Origin representative Robbie Farah will make a timely return off the bench after missing the trip to Melbourne with concussion sustained in Game II of State of Origin. His inclusion shifts Elijah Taylor back to lock to face his former side, with Dene Halatau again named to start in the hooking role after sustaining a concussion last week.
Under new Coach Anthony Griffin, a focus on youth in 2016 has resulted in Penrith playing an exciting brand of second phase football. The visitors head find themselves sitting in eighth position on 18 competition points with seven wins and seven losses.
The inclusion of boom halfback Nathan Cleary has proved a masterstroke in recent weeks, and his combination with Bryce Cartwright in the halves will be one to watch with interest, coming up against Wests Tigers young guns in Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks.
Another key match up is the battle of in-form fullback James Tedesco and current New South Wales fullback Matt Moylan. On statistics alone this season, Tedesco dominates the representative fullback with 11 tries and nine line breaks to Moylan’s one each — although both have an impressive nine try assists apiece after 16 games of the season.
With both sides traditionally known to throw the ball around and attack, this game will come down to who’s willing to roll up their sleeves and defend for the full 80 minutes.
Either way it looms as an intriguing match up with the stakes at an all-time high.
Date — Saturday, July 2, 2016
Time — 5:30pm AEST (Gates Open 3:00pm)
Venue — ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park
On-Field Referees — David Munro and Gavin Reynolds
Touch Judges — Brett Suttor and Kasey Badger
Review Officials — Luke Patten, Jason Robinson and Bryan Norrie
TV, Live Stream and Radio Information
TV — Live via Fox Sports 1 (subscription required)
Live Stream — Foxtel Go, NRL Digital Pass (subscription required)
Radio — AM 2GB 873, ABC 702 ABC Grandstand (check local guides)
Confirmed Squads andTeam News
For Wests Tigers, Robbie Farah has been named to return after being a late withdrawal for trip to Melbourne due to concussion. His inclusion on the bench means Dene Halatau has been named to start at hooker with Elijah Taylor moving back to the lock position.
Halatau is confident of a return to the field this weekend after going off against the Storm in the first half with concussion, having passed all tests and training during the week.
Penrith have named former New Zealand international Sam McKendry to return from injury as 18th Man in an otherwise unchanged line up to the side that defeated South Sydney on Friday night, with Cartwright and Cleary again named in the halves.
WESTS TIGERS — 1. James Tedesco 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Tim Simona 4. Kevin Naiqama 5. Jordan Rankin 6. Mitchell Moses 7. Luke Brooks 8. Aaron Woods 9. Dene Halatau 10. Sauaso Sue 11. Josh Aloiai 12. Chris Lawrence 13. Elijah Taylor (Interchange: 14. Tim Grant 15. Ava Seumanufagai 16. Robbie Farah 17. Kyle Lovett 18. JJ Felise) — Coach: Jason Taylor
PENRITH PANTHERS — 1. Matt Moylan 2. Josh Mansour 3. Waqa Blake 4. Tyrone Peachey 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Bryce Cartwright 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Leilani Latu 9. Peter Wallace 10. Reegan Campbell-Gillard 11. Isaah Yeo 12. Trent Merrin13. Suaia Matagi (Interchange: 14. Sitaleki Akauola 15. Jeremy Latimore 16. Chris Grevsmuhl 17. James Fisher-Harris 20. Sam McKendry) — Coach: Anthony Griffin
2016 Recent Results
R11 — Wests Tigers 20 def. Newcastle Knights 12
R12 — Wests Tigers 19 def. Brisbane Broncos 18
R13 — Sydney Roosters 32 def. Wests Tigers 18
R14 — Wests Tigers 30 def. South Sydney Rabbitohs 14
R16 — Melbourne Storm 29 def. Wests Tigers 20
R10 — Penrith Panthers 30 def. New Zealand Warriors 18
R11 — Gold Coast Titans 28 def. Penrith Panthers 24
R13 — Melbourne Storm 24 def. Penrith Panthers 6
R14 — Penrith Panthers 31 def. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 24
R16 — Penrith Panthers 28 def. South Sydney Rabbitohs 26
Last Time They Met — Penrith Panthers 35 def. Wests Tigers 12 (Rd.16, 2015)
Wests Tigers last played Penrith just over a year ago at Leichhardt Oval in Round 16, with both teams desperate for a win — similar to the situation again in 2016. Despite leading 12-10 at the half time break with tries to Chris Lawrence and Kevin Naiqama, the home side were ambushed in the second half with Penrith scoring five unanswered tries to race away with a 35-12 victory with David Simmons scoring four tries for the visitors.
· Against the Panthers — Played 27, Won 11, Lost 16, Drawn 0
· At ANZ Stadium — Played 2, Won 1, Lost 1, Drawn 0
Player to Watch — Bryce Cartwright (Penrith Panthers)
All the talk throughout Origin has been whether the Blues should play Bryce Cartwright in 2016, and despite producing a mixed bag against South Sydney, the 21-year old is fast becoming a serious threat for opposition teams. His Man of the Match performance against the Rabbitohs, which included three try-assists and six offloads, was testament to that fact.
The downfall to Cartwright’s game in 2016 is his defence, where he has missed 49 tackles, including five against South Sydney — the seventh worst in the competition and the most by any Penrith player. With that said, the St Mary’s junior attracts plenty of defenders in attack and immediately threatens to put on points for the visitors anywhere on the park.
His combination with young rookie Nathan Cleary has been growing stronger in the last fortnight — something the Wests Tigers will have to be on red alert come Saturday.
What They Said
“We're going to need to put in a full 80-minute performance this week and try to reduce the opportunities that they have. For us, that comes down to our composure.” — Chris Lawrence
“We know the talent they’ve got — you look only have to look at their spine. Elijah Taylor — we know how good he is. They made a game of it against Melbourne.” — Isaah Yeo, Penrith
“They play a lot of second phase footy with a lot of offloads. Guys like Bryce Cartwright and Trent Merrin create that second phase for them and young Cleary has been leading them around the park well. They’re definitely a team to watch — we’re going to have to be on our toes the whole game.” — James Tedesco
Three Final Facts
1. Wests Tigers have won seven of their last ten games against Penrith.
2. James Tedesco is yet to score a try against Penrith — the only team in the competition.
3. Penrith has not won three games in a row since Round 23, 2014