After entering the 2021 NRL season with high hopes the Newcastle Knights find themselves down in 10th place on the NRL ladder, struggling with inconsistency as well as injuries that have made life difficult for coach Adam O’Brien.
It seems like the worst time for the club to take on the league leader, but fate sees them taking on a Penrith Panthers team that had not lost a game in 2021, a team that would top any NRL betting guide , and who have proven to be the premiership favourites.
The Knights will be looking to rely on the outstanding attack of fullback Kalyn Ponga, who has been back to his brilliant best since returning from injury. Ponga adds a real x-factor to the Knights attack, he has the ability to take over a game and be unstoppable, and his off the cuff style of play will be needed against a Panthers defence that has been rated by some experts as one of the best of all time.
On the other side of the field the Penrith Panthers will be looking to continue their march towards the NRL Grand Final, off the back of that incredible defense, a huge amount of depth in their forward pack, and led around the park by Nathan Cleary, a player who looks to be the favourite to take out the Dally M Medal in 2021.
The Knights cane take some solace in the fact that the last time these two teams met, they managed to come away with a 14-all draw. Few teams can say they had even that amount of success against the Panthers last time around.
This game will be a real test of the Knights forward pack. Can they stand up to the full 80 minute test the Panthers forwards will put them through? Can they lay a platform that their halves and backs can work off and look to crack the Panthers defensive line.
One possible weakness in the Panthers side is Stephen Crichton, who has been less than impressive at fullback. The Panthers have named Dylan Edwards in their extended lineup, but it feels like it may be a week or two too early for his return.
Crichton has been caught out of position a number of times for the Panthers, and with a good short kicking game the Knights may just be able to cause a few problems out wide.
Meanwhile the possible return of Api Koroisau could spark danger signs for the Knights, as his running from dummy half adds a new dimension to the Panthers attack.
This should be a fantastic contest. One team looking to continue the best start in the clubs history, the other looking to get back on track after disappointing their fans early in the season.
I’m tipping the Penrith Panthers to win by a scoreline of 28-10. I think they will wear down the Knights and really kick on and score a few tries late in the game.
This will be a match that is not to be missed!