The injury cloud over both Blake Austin and Josh Hodgson has a massive role to play in this one!
CANBERRA V PENRITH Saturday night, GIO Stadium
The Raiders couldn’t have chosen a worse time to have their 10-match winning streak broken last week when they lost 14-12 to Cronulla at this very stadium. Making things worse for them is that they blew a 12-0 lead after losing influential hooker Josh Hodgson through injury.
Penrith go into this one on a season-high six straight wins in which they have been beating their rivals by an average of 22 points per game.
LONG SEASON TAKES ITS TOLL
Ricky Stuart’s side have taken probably the biggest injury concerns into the finals series and it hurt them last week. Without Blake Austin and then losing Hodgson early in the game, the Raiders attack went off the boil which allowed Cronulla back into the contest.
While both players have been named to take their place on Saturday night, it would take a near miracle for Hodgson to play according to a number of different sources. Austin is the more likely of the two.
Penrith has been one of the surprise packets of the competition especially late in the season. Notching six straight wins, they have won eight of their last nine games and averaged a whopping 30.8ppg since Round 20. It’s been their away form, however, that has been most impressive as they have posted nine wins from 15 on the road.
HOW IT PANS OUT
Canberra are marginal favourites in this one but if Austin and Hodgson were fit then they would be far shorter. The biggest question is whether the pair play and if they don’t can their replacements, Sam Williams and possibly Kurt Baptiste, do the job? Forgetting last week’s loss to Cronulla and the Green Machine had forged the best attack in the competition and had scored a very impressive 33.8 ppg since Round 20.
Penrith will come into this full of confidence and will be chasing seven straight wins for the first time since 2005-06. Should they manage to win the Grand Final they will break their current club record of eight straight which was set back in 2003 – the last time they won the premiership.
Expect free-flowing football from both these sides who won’t leave anything in the tank.
Penrith are definitely not out of this and with injury concerns to Austin and Hodgson must be highly thought of. If those two players don’t line up then the Mountain Men are the pick.
That said, we are putting our faith in what Stuart has done by naming the pair and as a result of that we are going for a Canberra win.
Penrith, while impressive last week against the Bulldogs, were in real trouble in the first 40 minutes as they were stifled by a really well organised defensive outfit. Costly errors have been part of their game as well as young half Nathan Clearly and coach Anthony Griffin have adopted a bit of a ‘high risk, high reward’ style of play at times. Will those errors and defensive lapses come back to haunt them?
HEAD TO HEAD: Canberra* ($1.88 UNIBET)
MARGIN: Go for a 1-12 result either side (Raiders 1-12: $3.10 William Hill. Panthers 1-12: $3.30 Bet365) as an average of just 7.8ppg has separated them in their last six clashes.
EXOTIC BET: Waqa Blake to Score A Try ($3.10 Sportsbet). He has had a very strong backend of the season where he has crossed the line in six straight matches including last week against the Bulldogs.
EXOTIC BET 2: Peter Wallace to Score A Try ($8 Sportsbet). Paying juicy odds to cross for a four-pointer, the former halfback turned hooker has three tries in his last four games.
EXOTIC BET 3: In the Total Match Points Over/Under, go Over 39.5 ($1.90 Sportsbet). Canberra had the best attack in the competition while Penrith ranked fifth. In their last five clashes the total has been an average of 48.6 Points.
*denotes that if Austin and Hodgson don’t line up for Canberra, then Penrith is the tip.