It’s a short turnaround from game 1 of Origin to the first match of round 14, more so for the Panthers than the Raiders. The Green Machine only lost Papalii to Origin duties, while the men from the mountains were represented by Cleary, Maloney, Peachey and Campbell-Gillard.
Physics would tell you that this means that the Panthers stars should be operating below peak capacity on Friday night, but the mystical side of Origin has a way imbuing winning players with extra fuel for the week.
The Raiders meanwhile continue to look to the future, both in the 2018 season and beyond. The Hodgson countdown is somewhere around T minus three rounds, while another Englishman, Ryan Sutton, has been added to the roster for 2019. The other good news is that Siliva Havili is close to extending with the club.
I’m going to abandon the usual rumble format this week (no headers!) and turn it into more of a Raiders Ramble.
The Green Machine just scraped through against Manly in Rd 12 before having a bye, and it’s safe to say that despite the win it was not an endearing performance. Countless errors both in attack and defence meant that the Raiders could never get comfortably ahead on the board, and you could argue that it was only the individual brilliance of Cotric that got them in range to notch a very wonky field goal.
The Panthers are a very different proposition to the Sea Eagles. Brimming with confidence they have usurped the Dragons at the top of the ladder, with their club form translating into rep jerseys.
Maloney is proving to be the ultimate journeyman, combining well with Cleary, and Sezer and Austin will have to be at the top of their games to match it with them. The real performance gap lies between Maloney and Austin. One is an able kicker and astute organiser, the other is an instinct runner who has trouble passing.
Hingano is on the bench again, which means Ricky aims to undermine Havili’s efforts at some point. I have no idea who Katoa is, but I’ll be keen to see how he shapes up against Havili.
The forward pack battle should be well contested, with the Raiders still missing Tapine and Paulo. Boyd and Lui take up the starting prop slots, with Papalii at lock. Soliola joins Whitehead in the second row.
I for one will be hoping Whitehead turns in a better game this round. His performance against Manly was easily his worst in green, and the Raiders desperately need him to connect with Leipana on the wing.
Penrith have the likes of RCG, Merrin and Tamou at their disposal, and the Raiders should be wary of a fired up Campbell-Gillard (who landed some tremendous hits on Wednesday night)
The Raiders backline feels somewhat unbalanced right now, with both Wighton and Cotric shining, while Croker, Leilua and Rapana take a backseat to the action. While this is bearable on Crokers behalf it is downright frustrating on the Leipana side, as poor distribution from Austin and Whitehead continue to deny them any chance to terrorise edge defenders.
The Panthers match up through DWZ, Peachey and Dean Whare, all very capable players who can cause trouble on the edges if not closely monitored.
Can the Raiders win this one? It’s unlikely, based on the current ladder, but stranger things do and have happened so far this year. It’ll take a gargantuan effort from the Green Machine, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
RAIDERS BY ANOTHER WONKY FIELD GOAL!