Few seem confident in how they think today’s Western Sydney showdown between the Wests Tigers and Panthers at Campbelltown will play out.
Heading in to 2017, expectations on what both sides were expected to deliver could not have been different. Penrith were all but written in as a top four team and a potential premiership contender following on from their 2016 season and off-season recruits, while Wests Tigers were largely expected to follow on from last year’s results.
Close, and able to upset some of the heavyweights, but ultimately not enough.
However, 80 minutes in to 2017 and the results could not have been more different.
Starting with Wests Tigers on Friday night, Jason Taylor’s men showed tremendous speed and enthusiasm — running all over their more-fancied opponents for 65 minutes before conceding a couple of late tries that gave the scoreboard some respectability.
They were powerful and dynamic on the ground, with eight players running for more than 100 metres. They were quick and electric in the middle, with James Tedesco, Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks carving open the Rabbitohs with apparent simplicity.
It was only one win, against a depleted South Sydney outfit that simply looked bereft of ideas in the second half, but it was still an incredibly impressive start to season 2017.
Less than 24 hours later, it was the Panthers’ turn to take to the field against a Dragons outfit that many had tipped as potential wooden spoon contenders.
Clearly nobody told the Red V that, however, as Paul McGregor’s men ran away with a stunning 42-10 upset — leaving many asking questions as to just what they had witnessed.
Instead of being lively and tough through the middle, Penrith were run right over.
The Dragons out-muscled and out-enthused their opponents, leaving many to question just how good the men at the foot of the mountain would really be in 2017.
That’s the backdrop to which both teams head in to today’s game — the first time that the two Western Sydney-based sides will play at Campbelltown since 2013.
Yet despite what might seem two very different form lines and starts to the year, it’s worth noting the similarities that can also be drawn between the two sides.
Both have young spines and some of the most electric playmakers in the NRL; both have the ability to throw the ball around with their big men and produce plenty of points in attack.
And it’s that backdrop which is perhaps most pertinent to today’s game.
While Round 1 provides us with some insight into how teams will perform, it is only 80 minutes of football. Wests Tigers players have spoken all week with certainty that the Panthers will be a much different side to the one that ran out there in Round 1.
The visitors today have said as much, themselves.
As shown in their two meetings in 2016, on their day, both can be incredibly tough to stop, with each team winning one encounter in comfortable fashion.
Today’s game will be no different.
Tough, explosive and definitely one not to miss.
Key Times to Note
11:35am — Gates Open, Members Only
11:40am — Gates Open, General Public
11:45am — Intrust Super Premiership, Wests Tigers vs. Penrith Panthers
1:45pm — Holden Cup, Wests Tigers vs. Penrith Panthers
4:00pm — NRL, Wests Tigers vs. Penrith Panthers
Down the Middle — After an emphatic showing from Wests Tigers forwards against the Rabbitohs, winning the battle in the middle of the field will again be the difference on Sunday — just as it was in the Panthers’ heavy Round 1 defeat. The Dragons ran for close to 2000 metres as a team last week, while Wests Tigers finished second in that department with 1807 metres. If Aaron Woods and Ava Seumanufagai can get their opponents on the back foot early, it could pave the way for another impressive victory.
Switching Clubs — A change is as good as a holiday, they say, and that’s true for a number of players lining up in Sunday’s game. Four Wests Tigers players (Kevin Naiqama, Jamal Idris, Tim Grant and Elijah Taylor) played for Penrith before joining Wests Tigers, with a combined total of 197 games experience for the Panthers. Meanwhile, at the foot of the mountains, five-eighth Te Maire Martin played Holden Cup at Wests Tigers from 2014-15 — partnering Mitchell Moses in the halves — and bench forward Sitaleki Akauola played 11 NRL games for Wests Tigers between 2013-14.
Weather Update — Having rained seemingly non-stop in Sydney for the past two weeks, Sunday’s game is forecast to be played in glorious sunshine, with a top of 32 degrees. Rain isn’t due in the South West of Sydney until early next week.
Closing In — The record might not come this week, but following last week’s four-pointer, Chris Lawrence is now just one try away from equaling Benji Marshall’s all-time top try-scoring record at Wests Tigers. The veteran back-rower is also fast approaching 200 NRL games, now just five games away from the milestone. James Tedesco can also move into the top five all-time top try-scorers with one more try — currently level on 46 tries with former winger Beau Ryan. And while we’re on records, look out for David Nofoaluma this Sunday — the winger has scored nine tries in his last seven games at Campbelltown and requires just one more to be the Club’s top try-scorer at the venue.
TV — Live via Channel 9 and Fox Sports League from 3:30pm AEDT (2:30pm QLD)
Radio — Live via FM 104.9 Triple M, AM 702 ABC Grandstand and AM 2GB 873