RUGBY LEAGUE expert Kaine Greenwood (@KaineG23) highlights his favourite angle from the weekend’s action with Saturday morning’s NRL grabbing his attention.
Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers | Saturday 10.45 | Premier Sports
The challenge has been set and one of these two sides will exit the NRL Finals series at the end of 80 minutes at the GIO Stadium.
Both of these sides have been in fine form in the lead up to this and that makes picking a winner in this one a tough ask.
The Raiders are in their third semi-final in seven seasons but are yet to go any further since the inception of the current play-off structure. Visitors Penrith won the Premiers title in 2003 but hadn’t reached this stage since 2010 prior to winning through to this fixture.
Canberra have concerns over hooker Josh Hodgson after picking up a what appeared at the time a serious-looking ankle injury early in the preliminary final loss. But Hodgson is rated as likely to play after making through training and being named in the squad alongside fellow late injury decision, Blake Austin.
Even if both miss out -which now looks unlikely – the Raiders have a serious threat on the right-hand-side with winger Jordan Rapana and his inside man Joey Leilua.
Leilua produced a highlight-reel assist to put Rapana over in their loss last week and that extended the flyer’s season tally to 21.
With a full group that incisiveness increases further: Hodgson’s performances saw him named in NRL’s Team of the Year – along with four other teammates – based on metrics like the 16 try-assists while opposite centre Jarrod Croker was league’s highest producer of points in the 2016 regular season.
The Panthers themselves are not short of game-breaking personnel and are perhaps the most off-the-cuff, entertaining side in the NRL with a roster packed full of youthful attacking talent.
Josh Mansour has capped off his debut season as an Origin pick for NSW with a string of impressive performances and leads his side with 16 tries while 18-year-old Nathan Cleary controls the team from centre field with fellow youngster Bryce Cartwright (8 tries, 10 assists).
Full-back Matt Moylan and utility centre Tyrone Peachey are also regular contributors of points.
Round nine of the competition saw the latest meeting of these two sides at Carrington when Penrith survived a second-half fightback to win by field goal, 19-18.
Although that is below the points line available for this, both groups have developed greatly over that period and considering the gravity of what is a stake I expect to see both sides open up, particular in the second-half, when an entire season’s efforts are put to the test.
Anthony Griffin’s visitors in particular have gone on a storming run to, firstly, make the post-season on points difference and then to be in shake-up here after winning eight of their nine games.
It is the fashion in which they the have achieved results too that increases confidence on this week’s selection – 15 of Penrith’s 26-game season has seen 40 or more points scored, including 10 of their last 13 fixtures.
There is support to this too with 10/13 fixtures played on the Canberra turf going over the 39.5 mark that Ladbrokes are pricing up.
The Green Machine hosts have tacked on a number of points across the season and ended the NRL regular season as the highest scorers (688) – 104 more than any other side.
Although just five from 12 Panthers away trips have cleared this week’s points line, many have been within just one score of winning and with all on this game it’s hard to see either reigning in their attacking flair.
The season started with these two playing out a high-scoring affair and I sense it will finish – for one side at least – in the same fashion.
Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers – Over 39.5 points (10/11 Betfair)
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