PREVIEW: Panthers v Mounties VB NSW Cup Round 5

#VBNSWCUP MATCH PREVIEW

ROUND 5 v Mounties @ SportingBet Stadium, Saturday 5 April @ 3PM

The Penrith Panthers, having won two games in a row, face arguably their toughest opponents of the season to date - Mounties - this Saturday afternoon at SportingBet Stadium... given their status as the only remaining undefeated team in the NSW Cup.

Last Sunday, the Panthers boosted by the return of several players boasting first grade experience, including the shock selection of Origin prop, Tim Grant, clicked into gear to win convincingly in the end 42-22 over the previously undefeated Wentworthville Magpies while Mounties left it to late in the game to seal an important 20-18 win over North Sydney Oval thanks to a late penalty goal to Mitch Cornish.

Tale Of The Tape

When this fixture was played in 2013, through Penrith's then feeder club, the Windsor Wolves, it was the Wolves who prevailed on both occasions, racking up big scores in the process, 48-6 & 46-26. However, Mounties come to Penrith with the competition's best attack & defence record & are no doubt the big improvers in the NSW Cup in 2014.

Team Changes

The Panthers after that early-season injury crisis are looking stronger with each game & again have the luxury of naming a 19 man squad, including 12 players with NRL experience. In a boost for the NSW Cup side, Kevin Naiqama & Isaac John return from first grade duties meaning a reshuffled lineup for the Panthers backline with Will Smith going back to fullback, Wes Naiqama moving back to the centres with Tom Eisenhuth going back to the interchange bench. In the forwards, Tim Grant has returned to start in first grade, which gives Junior Kangaroos prop, Reagan Campbell-Gillard the opportunity to start in this game. No doubt Luke Capewell & Eto Nabuli will be better for the run this week after their first appearance of the season as well.

The team is as follows:

1. WILL SMITH 2. ETO NABULI 3. ISAAH YEO 4. WES NAIQAMA 5. KEVIN NAIQAMA 6. LUKE CAPEWELL 7. ISAAC JOHN 8. SAM ANDERSON 9. KIERRAN MOSELEY 10. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD 11. MATT ROBINSON 12. NATHAN SMITH 13. RYAN SIMPKINS
INTERCHANGE: 14. LEILANI LATU 15. TOM EISENHUTH 16. SHAUN SPENCE 17. MITCH CLARK 18. LIAM AYOUB 19. ANTHONY CHERRINGTON (TWO TO BE OMITTED)

COACH: GARTH BRENNAN

For Mounties, they have named a largely unchanged side with the exception of Clay Priest coming in for Jake Foster who is on standby for first grade selection. Its been reported though that Gus Aiga, Lagi Setu & Clay Priest although named are in some doubt due to injury & would not surprise to see Foster drop back into the NSW Cup side. Mounties have a blend of youth & experience in their side with 7 players with NRL experience. They are strong across the park with the likes of Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Matt McIllwrick, Lagi Setu, Mark Nicholls & Kyle O'Donnell forming the nucleus of a very good pack for this level, while their backs oozes class with Qld Cup signing Joe Bond at fullback, complimenting the likes of Mosese Pangai, Sami Sauiluma, & talented Holden Cup graduates Mitch Cornish & Jeremy Hawkins & its easy to see why this team is undefeated thus far in season 2014. To add further spice to this game there are 6 players who either played with Penrith or came through the Penrith juniors system lining up against the Panthers - Kyle O'Donnell, Mosese Pangai, Kurt Horton, Clay Priest, Mitch Cahalane & Reece Goldsmith.

The team is as follows:

1. JOEY BOND 2. GUS AIGA 3. JEREMY HAWKINS 4. MOSESE PANGAI 5. SAMI SAUILUMA 6. MATT PLACE 7. MITCH CORNISH 8. KYLE O'DONNELL 9. MATT MCILWRICK 10. TOM LEAROYD-LAHRS 11. LAGI SETU 12. MARK NICHOLLS 13. CLAY PRIEST
INTERCHANGE: 14. MITCH CAHALANE 15. KURT HORTON 16. RODNEY COATES 17. REECE GOLDSMITH 18. FRANCIS VAIOTU (ONE TO BE OMITTED) 

COACH: STEPHEN ANTONELLI

Key Match Ups

It's hard to believe but Penrith's team this week looks even more imposing then the one that accounted for Wenty last start. No doubt Mounties will face this game as a real test of their credentials given they are up against a team who despite their slow start to the season, are still considered by many as the team to beat in the NSW Cup in 2014.

There are some great match-ups this week that will determine the outcome of this game:

Sam Anderson v Kyle O'Donnell

Former team mates from both their playing days at Newcastle & Windsor, now oppose one another. Kyle O'Donnell is no doubt benefitting from an injury-free start to the season while Sam Anderson continues to score tries & place his membership in the front rower's union at risk having scored 4 tries thus far. The text messages have been coming thick & fast this week between these two as they look for early bragging rights & the contest out in the middle will be a beauty.

Wes Naiqama v Mosese Pangai

The veteran Panthers outside back has been in scintillating form at fullback since his return from injury, scoring 22 points from 2 tries & 7 goals from 7 attempts last start, but this time reverts back to the centres to take on former team-mate Mosese Pangai. Mosese's time at Penrith was brief & secured a mid-season transfer to the Wests Tigers before finding at home at Canberra via Mounties. Mosese's size & power will no doubt be a test of Naiqama's defensive capabilities this week.

Isaac John v Mitch Cornish

Isaac John having returned from first grade duties, will be up against one of the best halves prospects to emerge from Canberra in a long time, Mitch Cornish. Having graduated from the Holden Cup, Mitch's performances in the NSW Cup thus far in 2014 suggests the current Canberra halves in the NRL will need to maintain their form to keep Cornish out of first grade. Another scalp in the form of Isaac John would certainly help that cause but John will be a tough opponent to overcome.

The Verdict

Mounties will be a tough opponent for the Panthers given their confidence will be high that goes with the territory of being an undefeated team. The battle in the forwards especially will be an absorbing clash given the level of experience both sides contain in their packs & Mounties no doubt have some exciting prospects in the backline to take advantage of any go forward Mounties can muster. Having said that, provided the Panthers are able to absorb the punishment the big Mounties pack will throw at them, I believe Penrith's backline has a bit more class & experience that will allow them to overcome what will no doubt be a very determined Mounties outfit. Panthers by 6 in a torrid encounter.

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