Wests Tigers will be looking for back-to-back wins this Thursday when they travel to the foot of the mountains to take on the in-form Penrith Panthers at home.
After ending a run of three straight defeats last week with a convincing performance to down the North Queensland Cowboys, Ivan Cleary's side will be fresh with confidence and looking to continue their recent success against a Penrith side set to receive a huge boost with the return of Nathan Cleary.
Cleary has not featured for the Panthers side suffering a knee injury in the Round 3 loss to the Bulldogs, with the experienced James Maloney handling the young gun's absence at halfback with aplomb.
Despite having a number of key players sidelined, Maloney has rallied the Panthers to second on the competition ladder with a number of gritty wins in the last month over the Titans, Bulldogs and Knights.
The return of Cleary is certainly a huge boost for the side, however, and it'll be fascinating to see how his impact not only affects Maloney's role in the side but also the attacking fluency of Penrith as a whole.
The match will be the second time that Cleary has faced off against his father as Coach of an opposition team, with Nathan earning the honours when these two sides met in the back end of last season.
For Wests Tigers, it will simply be about repeating the process from last Thursday's win, which saw the hosts regain their potency in attack but also composure with the ball — completing all bar one set in the second half to pull away from the Cowboys and eventually emerge with a 20-12 victory in the end.
Doing it without the parochial Leichhardt Oval crowd behind them will be the challenge this time around, however, as Wests Tigers look to secure their first win away from home since beating Manly in Round 6.
After winning three in a row at the old Penrith Park from 2011 to 2013, Wests Tigers have lost their last two games at Penrith and have won just one game against the Panthers since the start of the 2014 season.
Date — Thursday, May 17, 2018
Time — 7:50pm AEST
Venue — Panthers Stadium, Penrith
TV, RADIO AND LIVE STREAM INFORMATION
TV — Fox League (Ch.502) and Channel 9
Radio — AM 702 ABC Grandstand and FM 104.9 Triple M Sydney
Live Stream —Foxtel Go, 9Now, NRL Digital Pass, Watch NRL Streaming (exc. Australia)
LATEST CROWNBET ODDS
Head to Head — Penrith Panthers ($1.57), Wests Tigers ($2.40)
Line — Penrith Panthers -4.5 ($1.90), Wests Tigers +4.5 ($1.90)
Penrith — 1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2. Christian Crichton 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Dean Whare 5. Tyrone Peachey 6. James Maloney 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Trent Merrin 9. Sione Katoa 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira-Naera 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris (Interchange: 14. Wayde Egan 15. Jack Hetherington 16. Viliame Kikau 17. James Tamou) — Coach: Anthony Griffin
Wests Tigers — 1. Corey Thompson 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Esan Marsters 16. Michael Chee Kam 5. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Russell Packer 9. Elijah Taylor 10. Ben Matulino 11. Chris Lawrence 12. Robbie Rochow 13. Matt Eisenhuth (Interchange: 14. Alex Twal 15. Jacob Liddle 17. Sauaso Sue 19. Chris McQueen) — Coach: Ivan Cleary
Late Changes: Penrith will line up 1-17, while Michael Chee Kam earns his first start of the year for Wests Tigers. He replaces Kevin Naiqama in the centres, with Chris McQueen on the bench for his club debut.
2018 SEASON SO FAR
|PENRITH PANTHERS||WESTS TIGERS|
|Position||2nd (14 points)||7th (12 points)|
|Points For||233 points (4th)||172 points (11th)|
|Points Against||164 points (5th)||151 points (3rd)|
|Home Form||Won 4, Lost 1||Won 4, Lost 2|
|Away Form||Won 3, Lost 2||Won 2, Lost 2|
|Streak||Won last 1 game||Won last 1 game|
KEY MATCHUP — Nathan Cleary vs. Luke Brooks
With less than two weeks before the Blues lineup for Game I of the 2018 State of Origin is revealed, all eyes will be on the battle between Nathan Cleary and Luke Brooks — two of the frontrunners for the seemingly vacant No.7 jersey in Brad Fittler's side. However, before either of them gets there, they'll need to get through Thursday's game and it's important to keep the focus as such for both young halfbacks. Cleary's talent is well known and his absence has certainly been felt by Penrith, and the real question mark for him is as to how he slots back in alongside James Maloney and whether he takes back the reigns as the dominant playmaker. Their combination was humming along well prior to Cleary's injury — forcing Maloney to step up — so it's crucial for Anthony Griffin's men that those two find their timing and connection once again if they are to break down one of the best defensive sides in the 2018 competition.
For Brooks, he'll head in to Thursday's game full of confidence after a dominant performance in the win over North Queensland that saw him walk away with the three Dally M points. His length-of-the-field effort to put the hosts on the board to start the match showed again how dominant his running game is, and fans will be hoping to see more of the same this Thursday night. Brooks scored a great running try last time these two sides met, but it's his control that has improved most in 2018 and will again be the key for Wests Tigers.
With Josh Reynolds looking at a return the following week, all eyes will be on Brooks' partnership with Benji Marshall this weekend and how "Grub" could possibly slot back in to the side.
Brooks and Cleary first faced off when the Penrith halfback was just 18 years old and in just his fourth game of first-grade with the Wests Tigers man claiming the honours with a 34-26 win. However, since then, it's been all Cleary with the 20-year-old winning the last three meetings between the two.
Match Referees — Ben Cummins and Jon Stone
Touch Judges — Michael Wise and Tim Roby
Review Officials — Luke Patten and Ashley Klein