ISP PREVIEW | Panthers v Jets
Two of the most consistent teams in 2018 have taken different paths to the Preliminary Final but very little separates the Penrith Panthers and Newtown Jets: a place in the 2018 Intrust Super Premiership Grand Final just one win away for both sides.
The Panthers have enjoyed a stellar season having not lost since their Round 11 clash against the Western Suburbs Magpies, 118 days ago. Coincidentally, however, one of their four losses in 2018 was against the Jets – a 36-12 loss in Round 4.
Enjoying a week off after their 28-18 victory over the Bulldogs in Week One of the Finals, the Panthers now face a Jets outfit boasting plenty of confidence on the back of a 34-16, dominant win over Mounties last Saturday (8 September).
It's no secret the Jets have built a strong reputation as the most potent attacking team in the competition this season – often taking advantage of valuable field position with their clinical attacking raids.
But their work through the middle-third rests largely on their barnstorming forward pack, with the likes of Kurt Dillon, Braden Uele and Wesley Lolo paving the way for the side's 'little men' to flourish.
The Jets have averaged 36 points across their last four outings and are the only team in the competition to average five tries per game this season, with William Kennedy, Kyle Flanagan and Blayke Brailey laying on 30 tries for their team-mates this season – 37% of their sides total contribution (79).
But the Jets' task gets even harder against a Panthers side that boasts NRL experience – Kaide Ellis, Jack Hetherington and Wayde Egan all getting a taste of the top grade this season.
The battle of the forwards is arguably the most enticing match-up with the Panthers (1492) averaging just 16m more than the Jets (1476) this season. Penrith will hold the mental edge heading into Saturday's clash though, having turned in a powerful performance against the Jets in Round 20 where they ran 500 more metres.
But while their forwards will prove pivotal in their battle in the middle, fullback Caleb Aekins will be just as influential if they are dominate the middle-third.
The 2018 ISP Player of the Year is ranked first in the competition in total run metres (3934m), and second in tackle-breaks (102) and post-contact metres (1166m) – proving instrumental in getting the Panthers' sets started in valuable field position.
The Jets will welcome back Braden Uele into the side with Malakai Houma named in jersey no.21, while the Panthers will be without Corey Harawira-Neara as he's been named in the NRL squad to tackle the Sharks in the sides' Semi-Final match-up.
In his place, Jack Hetherington returns to the run-on 13.