Although the Panthers continue to play stellar footy, this is the biggest challenge they have faced all season. While the Panthers have missed Koroisau and Edwards for an extended period this year, overall the nucleus of their squad has remained better intact that any other team in the competition. In total, ten Panthers players have played every game so far this year.
This weekend, due to suspension and Origin duties, they will be missing Apisai Koroisau, Brian To’o, Isaah Yeo, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin, Moses Leota and Nathan Cleary. Six of these guys are in the Panthers top’ ten players based on my player ratings.
And none are more important that captain Cleary. Cleary’s kicking game and overall control has seen him climb to be the premier player in the competition. His goal kicking is amazing and his combination with Luai is why the latter has been picked for NSW. While Burton and May are very good replacements, May in particular has not played much in the halves in recent times, and so I am not sure we will see the clinical Panthers we have become accustomed to.
In addition, the absence of Martin, Leota, Yeo and Koroisau take away the core of their dominant forward pack. While Kikau and Fisher-Harris remain, these four guys are renowned for doing the tough stuff that is often missed by the pundits. Yeo is also great at playing as a extra ball player, so his absence further compounds the loss of the Panthers halves.
The big question then becomes how well the NSW Cup players can step up. Before last weekend many people would argue these guys are all ready to dominate the NRL, but lets not forget that the Panthers NSW Cup team suffered their first loss of the year last weekend, to a patchwork Mounties team. The week earlier they snuck home against Souths due to a 79th penalty goal…so I still think these young guys will find the going tough stepping up to the NRL in a team missing a ton of talent.
As for the opponents, Wests delivered for us last weekend, and I am confident they can do again this week. Although they will miss Joe O to Origin duties, their forward depth is impressive and I think guys like Amone, Seyfarth, Blore and Utoikamanu will relish the opportunity to play more minutes.
Wests spine looks very settled and out wide, I really like the speed Wests possess in the form of Roberts and Nofoaluma.
Playing at Leichardt, off the back of winning three of their last five, I really like the odds on offer for Wests here.
Predicted score Wests 24 – Panthers 22