Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers @ GIO Stadium
The Raiders and Panthers clash in an explosive Elimination Semi-Final in Canberra on Saturday night. The Raiders suffered a narrow 16-14 loss at home to the Sharks last week despite shooting out to an early 12-0 lead. It was a different story for 6th place Penrith who convincingly accounted for the Bulldogs at Allianz Stadium. The 2 sides can lay claim to being the form sides in the NRL with Canberra's loss last week being their first in 11 games and Penrith riding the winning 7 from their last 8. The sides last met way back in Round 1 with the Raiders racking up a 30-22 victory at home.
The Raiders receive a massive boost on the eve of the game with Blake Austin and Josh Hodgson both overcoming injuries to take their place. Austin has not been sighted since Round 24 after breaking his hand with Sam Williams the unlucky player to make way. The Raiders lost all direction against Cronulla last week when Hodgson was forced from the field with a leg injury. The injury looked a serious one and you have to wonder how fit Hodgson actually is heading into this clash. The Raiders were an attacking machine in the last 10 weeks of the regular season, however they lacked composure at crucial times last week.
The Panthers name the same starting side for the 3rd straight week as they look to continue their giant killing run towards a possible Preliminary Final. Despite a slow start last week Penrith were dazzling in the second half scoring a number of freewheeling tries. Panthers' forward Trent Merrin has been outstanding and his footwork close to the line could be an advantage against a big Raiders pack. Panthers' rookie Nathan Cleary showed a cool hand under pressure last week playing a part in 2 tries. Matt Moylan has been close to the in-form player in the competition the past month and he will be looking to link with his halves as often as possible to try and mix up the Panthers' game.
Verdict - Raiders 28 Panthers 26
This should be a cracker with plenty of points and free flowing football. While it might not match the intensity of last night's game in terms of physicality, I expect it to be just as frenetic. I expect Canberra to be a bit better than last week when I thought they bombed that game against the Sharks. It will be a very hostile atmosphere in Canberra and the Raiders would be very determined not to let their fans down for a second week running. If you were going on last week's form you would have to tip Penrith, especially considering the injury clouds over Austin and Hodgson. However, given the Raiders are at home, I'all lean to them to score a late try to win the game. Raiders by 2.