Panthers on fire, but Raiders coming home hot

maximus182 Roar Guru

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    Nathan Cleary was on fire in Round 1. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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    With three games left to play in the NRL regular season and just six points separating the sides between fourth and tenth, the run into the finals is smothered in scenario-riddled matches.

    Perhaps none more so than the matchup between the Canberra Raiders and Penrith Panthers this Sunday at GIO Stadium.

    Penrith have notched half-dozen straight victories and are flying high again but, even more intriguingly, Canberra, who appeared destined to be 2017’s biggest flops, have found a glimmer of life again on the back of three-straight wins.

    Both teams enjoyed stellar, breakout years in 2016, which led to the league world’s cumulative preseason prediction that they would challenge for this season’s title.

    However, for different reasons, neither side has kicked on from last season’s red-hot form.

    Penrith began this season with just two wins from the opening nine rounds. By anyone’s assessment, it was a disaster given how they had captured our attention just six months earlier.

    The start might have been a shock, but their next four wins in the middle of the season would prove to be crucial. Essential, even.

    They spent five games away from Pepper Stadium during that period and after losing two on the trot to the Cowboys and South Sydney, they returned to their spiritual home and haven’t lost a game since.

    Six games, six wins. Five at Pepper Stadium.

    They have the undisputed sensation of the season Nathan Cleary playing well beyond his years and in calculations for a representative call-up, and now their key stalwart Matt Moylan has returned from injury.

    Under the guidance of Anthony Griffin, the play-making tutelage of club legend Greg Alexander and the behind the scenes advice of Phil Gould, Penrith could really give this competition a tilt if everything continues to fall into place like it has been.

    While Penrith’s showing for the majority of this season has been mixed for a number of reasons, Canberra just haven’t clicked as they did in 2016.

    They lost only Paul Vaughan and Edrick Lee in the offseason and kept virtually their entire line-up intact. They unearthed a potential franchise weapon in 18-year-old Nick Cotric and, in somewhat of a surprise, handed Dave Taylor a train-and-trial contract.

    Trying to work out where they’ve gone wrong this season is a tricky exercise, but identifying what went well for them in 2016 is an easy task.

    The Raiders played a formidable and fear-invoking style of footy which allowed their attacking brilliance to shine as they won 13 of their last 15 games.

    Comradery among the squad in the isolated nation’s capital under Ricky Stuart brought them together and momentum took them to within a dropped pass of the grand final.

    Every team they faced was weary of playing the rebuilt Green Machine.

    Even Paul Gallen was in tears of joy after the Sharks got out of GIO Stadium with a qualifying final win.

    Perhaps the most endearing compliment of Canberra was that only their own error prevented them from knocking off Melbourne in the preliminary final at the ‘graveyard’ of AAMI Park.

    It’s why, should they win on Sunday afternoon, they must be considered a danger to any team that encounters them on their run to the finals series. That includes the Storm at AAMI Park in the final round of the season.

    They might have left their run very, very late, but make no mistake, Canberra are coming home hot.

    If they can build the confidence and find the spark that inspired their run last season, the Raiders are capable of beating anyone on their day.

    What a tantalising prospect the 2017 NRL Finals could be if the Green Machine make the cut.

    It would only be a scrape-in eighth place finish, but goodness scarious, look out whoever runs fifth.
    And for the Panthers, who knows what awaits for them.

    A club still in a development phase, but well capable of going all the way should they play to their potential.

    In last year’s semi-final, Penrith went to Canberra and failed to match the Raiders, going down 22-12.

    That match put them out of the finals series and they will be eager to revenge the loss in this Sunday’s blockbuster clash.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • August 18th 2017 @ 3:44am
      Matt dustby said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:44am | ! Report

      You are overly excited with the form of both teams
      Neither will do much

    • August 18th 2017 @ 5:34am
      realist said | August 18th 2017 @ 5:34am | ! Report

      Nothing special about either team. Canberra can beat anyone on their day?………..well every team can beat anyone on their day!

      • August 18th 2017 @ 1:37pm
        zim said | August 18th 2017 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

        Utter rubbish. By your logic there’s nothing special about any team.

        • August 19th 2017 @ 3:19am
          realist said | August 19th 2017 @ 3:19am | ! Report

          Utter rubbish??? Please enlighten us with your vast knowledge of rugby league as to why these two teams are so special compared to the other 14 teams? Tell us what is so special & why? I said any team can be any other team on their day……that is FACT! By your logic no other teams are as good as Canberra & Penrith!! Now that’s utter rubbish. If they’re so good then why aren’t they higher on the ladder??

          • August 19th 2017 @ 5:44pm
            Wild Eagle said | August 19th 2017 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

            Position on the ladder isn’t the only guide to the relative merit of teams. I follow the Eagles and wouldn’t argue with anyone that The Raiders are more likely to win the Title than us. The top team on the ladder isn’t the most likely to win the comp historically either , I’m pretty sure the 3rd placed team is.

            I used The Rooters as an example of a club which had recruited well leading up to last year but was lambasted because they were so low on the table. The ladder only indicates how many games a team has won over the whole year obviously and I’d place the Raiders in the top 4 best teams in the comp today. I hope they don’t make the 8 and the Eagles run into them.

    • Roar Rookie

      August 18th 2017 @ 7:57am
      Joe said | August 18th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Can’t wait for this game this weekend. I think its going to be spectacular. Two desperate teams playing a lot of off the cuff free flowing footy with outstanding talent. Should be the game of the weekend. Nice warm up though will be tonight’s game between Broncs and Dragons although the loss of several Dragons players might take the shine off it. Then the Knights v Storm which should also be a cracker with Knights winning 3 in a row and Storm looking to seal the Minor Premiership. The other codes seem have some good games with Swans v Adelaide and the Bledisloe on Saturday….great weekend of footy!

      • August 18th 2017 @ 6:01pm
        Magic Lyrebird said | August 18th 2017 @ 6:01pm | ! Report

        Yes the Panthers Raiders game should be a cracker – and yippee I’ll be there

    • August 18th 2017 @ 7:58am
      danwain said | August 18th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      Penrith are ordinary, just scrapping home against an injury riddled cowboys, struggling against the tigers and labouring against a dire bulldogs team, they will be found out, making up the numbers.

      Raiders won’t make the finals, in-fighting between big egos have killed that squad. They aren’t playing for each other, as soon as it gets tough they will fold.

    • Columnist

      August 18th 2017 @ 10:30am
      Tim Gore said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      Raiders also lost Fensom.

      • August 18th 2017 @ 2:01pm
        BleakCity said | August 18th 2017 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

        He was surplus, wasn’t getting a run & they released him much like Vaughn

        • August 18th 2017 @ 2:34pm
          Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | August 18th 2017 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

          According to the chairman of the Raiders they didn’t want to release Vaughan but were under cap pressure. Vaughan and Fensom would have been on pretty good money. Sometimes clubs have to make tough decisions.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 11:59am
      Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | August 18th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

      There is a chance that both the Raiders and the Panthers can make the 8 if the Raiders win all their remaining 3 games, the Panthers only lose the match to the Raiders and the Cowboys fall away. The Cowboys have been decimated by injuries and have two tough games remaining against the Sharks and Broncos and face the Tigers away.

      I don’t think the other two teams in the bottom 8 will be too confident facing either of the Panthers or the Raiders in the first week of the finals if they make it.

      Both the Raiders and Panthers will be confident going into the match on Sunday with a stretch of recent winning form which makes for a fascinating contest. Should be a massive crowd and wonderful atmosphere with fine sunny conditions forecast.

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