These two teams pretty much did the exact opposite of what most footy tipsters expected in round 11 and it's anyone's guess what they'll produce when they kick off the first of two split rounds for 2019 on Thursday night at Panthers Stadium.
The Panthers surprised almost everyone when they ended a six-match losing slide with a 16-10 defeat of the Eels, while Manly were supposed to brush aside the Titans with little fuss.
The Sea Eagles looked like they would do it easily when they got out to a 12-0 lead, but the Titans scored seven tries to Manly's one in the final 45 minutes and it was strange to see all the Sea Eagles' bad old habits surface after looking so sure of themselves over the past two months.
The Panthers need a minor miracle to get back into finals contention, but at least they showed some heart last week and should have an extra spring in their step at training this week.
Panthers: Viliame Kikau is a late out due to illness, with Liam Martin replacing him in the second row. Mitchell Kenny and Tim Grant also start with Sione Katoa and Reagan Campbell-Gillard benched. Caleb Aekins drops off the extended bench. A makeshift centre duo for the Panthers this week after Dean Whare and Waqa Blake were injured in round 11. Starting in their place are Isaah Yeo and Brent Naden. James Maloney returns from a week's suspension, slotting in at halfback for Nathan Cleary (Origin duty). Hame Sele and Kaide Ellis dropped off the extended bench 24 hours before kick-off.
Sea Eagles: Lloyd Perrett replaces Morgan Boyle on the bench in Manly's only change. Corey Waddell gets a start at lock in place of Blues rep Jake Trbojevic, while Reuben Garrick shifts to centre in place of Brad Parker (broken jaw). Abbas Miski has been named on the wing and Taniela Paseka moves up to the bench. Joel Thompson has been named captain in the absence of Trbojevic and Maroons skipper Daly Cherry-Evans. Haumole Olakauatu was trimmed from the playing squad on Wednesday. Hasler has won 13 from 19 against Ivan Cleary-coached teams.
James Maloney should be pumped for a big game after missing last week's win through suspension. Kane Elgey has played well this season and Maloney has to start proving he's not over the hill. Another crucial battle looms between Viliame Kikau and Manly backrowers Joel Thompson and Curtis Sironen.
For the Panthers to win
Last week's gritty win should restore some much-needed confidence and help get the Panthers believing in themselves again. Maloney needs to lead by his actions as much as his words, while the forwards have to stay strong and committed for 80 minutes against the workmanlike Manly pack.
For the Sea Eagles to win
Their form was so solid for several weeks that it's hard not to view the round 11 loss as an aberration. Or have the Sea Eagles been over-achieving all this time and the bubble has burst? They surely learned a valuable lesson not to take the foot off the gas when they get a lead and it'll be interesting to see if Des Hasler switches the focus back to defence like he did to stop the rot earlier in the year.
Brett Kimmorley says
It was an ugly win for Penrith last week but still a win. It becomes James Maloney’s team this week – there is no Nathan Cleary who stood up last week. Maloney needs to be creative on both sides of the park. Des would have been disappointed with the loss last week for Manly. They also lose a couple of stars. I expect this to be back-to-back victories for Penrith. Panthers by 4
James Maloney has conceded a league-high 13 penalties and missed more tackles (56) than any player in the NRL, while Panthers forward James Fisher-Harris is the leader in decoy runs (101). As a team Penrith have given away the most penalties (88) and missed the most tackles (428).
And another thing ...
The Panthers won 15 games last season and played in the finals, while Manly barely avoided the wooden spoon, winning just seven matches and finishing 15th on the Telstra Premiership ladder. But they shared the spoils in two meetings last year, with the Sea Eagles springing an 18-10 upset before Penrith squared the ledger with a 28-24 triumph.