Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights: Knights look for Grand Final revenge
(Jubilee Oval, Sunday September 13, 4pm)
It’s the rematch of the 2014 VB NSW Grand Final, as the Penrith Panthers take on the Newcastle Knights this Sunday afternoon in an elimination semi-final.
The two sides are at one win a piece in their 2015 clashes; with the Knights coming out on top with an 18-16 win in round two, while the Panthers clinched a close 30-24 contest in round 14.
The Knights are boosted by the return of key players such as Jake Mamo and Sam Mataora, while the Panthers on the other hand are forced to field an understrength lineup due to a saturation of omissions.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a few setbacks with [the] player roster in the last day or so,” said Panthers coach Garth Brennan.
“I’m going to be without Chris Smith with a patella tendon tear in his knee, Sione Kotoa who I thought was going to come back and play [VB] NSW Cup is going to play NYC. Will Smith and Tupou Sopoaga need to get some tidy-up surgery, our halfback Sam Scarlett did his ankle last week.
“We’ve been a little bit hampered with numbers.”
Knights coach Matt Lantry, while unaware of the full extent of the Panthers injury list, was delighted to bring back some key players to his starting 17, especially against such a strong team.
“Clint Newton’s experience is invaluable on top of Jake Mamo and Sam Mataora,” said Lantry.
“[Penrith] are the favorites by a mile, probably favorites to win the competition too. If we don’t come up with the same consistent performance as last week and improve in some key areas, then it’s going to be tough to get the win against the defending premiers.”
Polarising results occurred for these sides last week, as Lantry’s Knights look to build on their 45-6 victory over the Manly Sea Eagles into this week’s clash.
“I think the benchmark from last week was probably our defensive effort. We’ve done a fair amount of work over the last few weeks, just tidying up our defence. It came into tuition on the weekend, so I think that’s the key for us against, without doubt, the best team in the competition,” said Lantry.
The Panthers went down 28-10 to the Wyong Roos last week, and Brennan believes his side took some positives out of that loss, looking to take that into this week’s battle with an in-form Knights team.
“I thought we hung in the fight for a long time in the game [against the Roos],” said Brennan. “It was fairly close for a lot of the game and it was only the tries at the end where they sort of blew us away. I think the fact we competed hard for a while in that game is a fair positive we can take out of it.
“The Knights are strong right across the park. We’ve just got to worry about ourselves. We’re just trying to fill a team who are going to compete hard and we’ll do our best.”
Like Brennan, Lantry is focusing on their own performance rather than individuals from the opposition.
“We’ve had some good battles with Penrith this year. [There are] blokes we will ID but certainly getting our own backyard in order is a priority that’s for sure,” said Lantry.
It’s set to be a thrilling showdown between last year’s grand final rivals - can the Knights extract revenge in their season redemption or will the Panthers continue their premiership defence?
New Zealand Warriors v Canterbury Bulldogs: Battle of the forwards
(Jubilee Oval, Sunday September 13, 6.10pm)
The Warriors welcome back a host of NRL stars as they attempt to defeat the Canterbury Bulldogs for the first time in 2015 in this Sunday’s elimination final.
The Bulldogs hold a heavy psychological advantage, beating the Warriors in both contests this season.
They won a close game against the Warriors in round two by eight points, before putting the sword through them in a dominating 52-8 performance in round 13.
While Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore is fully aware of the recent success against the Warriors, he is wary of the sudden influx of players returning to their squad, mixed with their traditionally risky style of play that leads to points.
“The Warriors are capable of scoring plenty of points, and even though we’ve had a couple of wins against them this year, a few of their boys have had a bit more first grade experience - so they’ll certainly be hungry,” said Patmore.
“We need to make sure to stop their roll on. When they’ve got that, they play a lot of good footy on the edges to the big blokes, so defence [will be the focus]. We know we can score points, we’ve just got to make sure we can stop them.”
Warriors coach Stacey Jones is disappointed with the Warriors’ 43-10 loss to Mounties last week, and is adamant his side will need to aim up physically if they are any chance against a big Bulldogs outfit.
“Bulldogs play a physical game, and last time they played that’s where they well and truly got us. We’ve just got to turn up with a mindset that we’ve got to be tough and meet them front on,” said Jones.
“The Bulldogs, they’re a big side. A lot of their players have been pretty consistent performers for them all year. So the main thing is we have to really worry about ourselves. We’ve got to meet their physical challenge that they’re going to bring. They’re not going to go soft at all, and we’ve got to meet it.”
In what is a certain boost to the Warriors outfit, no inclusion is more important than custodian halfback Mason Lino.
Jones is delighted to have Lino, as well as a number of quality players return to his side for the do-or-die clash.
“We’ve got about seven players back from first grade so that will help,” said Jones.
“Its huge, the last six weeks we’ve played with an inexperienced team or an understrength team because of the injuries that we have and first grade. Unfortunately the [Warriors] NRL team won’t be playing playoffs, but we’ve got players that are eligible to play for us, so they need to step up to the challenge and lead the way.”
Patmore is attempting to combat the inclusion of such players by preparing his team as if they were playing a first grade side.
“That extra first grade experience from Mason Lino right across, they’ve all gained a bit and they’re all probably hungry to try and cement a first grade spot for next year. So we’re preparing ourselves like we’re playing a first grade team,” said Patmore.
A battle of two big forward packs, with creative halves and two sides that play an expansive style of football, this elimination semi-final is set to be a riveting affair.