Round 23 of the NRL gets underway with the Penrith Panthers looking to wrap up the minor premiership with a victory over the in-form Rabbitohs.
The Panthers remain six points clear at the top of the ladder with just three games remaining and although the minor premiership is pretty much in the bag, a win at Accor Stadium will confirm it.
It will be far from easy though against a Rabbitohs side that have started to hit form at just the right time and are many peoples smokies for the NRL premiership.
The bunnies are pushing hard to make the top four which would boost their chances of going all the way and making up for last season’s loss to the Panthers in the grand final.
With that in mind they will be going all out for the win and we have all the makings of a great game to kick off and exciting week of rugby league action.
Let’s take a closer look at both sides as the game fast approaches.
What: South Sydney v Penrith
Where: Accor Stadium, Sydney
When: 19:50 (AEST) Thursday 18th August 2022
How to watch: Channel 9, Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Rabbitohs 29/50, Panthers 7/5
South Sydney got the NRL campaign off to a disappointing start as they struggled for results and looked unlikely to challenge for the premiership.
It was suggested the departure of coach Wayne Bennett and star playmaker Adam Reynolds was too much for them to overcome.
However the doubters have been answered and under the leadership of new coach Jason Demetriou the bunnies will have the rest of the competition a little worried.
Souths sit just two points outside of the top four after winning six of the last seven games. The only setback in that sequence was a golden-point loss to the Sharks, and had Latrell Mitchell taken his chances it would have been seven from seven.
Mitchell can be forgiven as he has come back from injury fitter and stronger than before and it is no coincidence Souths have hit form since he has returned to the side.
There was a big concern earlier in the week when Mitchell was forced to pull out of training with a groin issue, but it turned out to be nothing serious and he has been named to start at fullback.
As well as Mitchell, star winger Alex Johnston is at the top of his game when scoring 11 tries in the last six games. He now has 25 in 20 games this season and is on course to finish leading NRL try scorer.
The Rabbitohs have also received a big double boost with halfback Lachlan Ilias set to return to the side after missing last week’s win over Parramatta, while Campbell Graham is also back for the first time since round 16 after recovering from a fractured cheekbone.
With Graham back in the centres, Jaxson Paulo will move to the wing.
The Panthers are having a tough time of it by their incredibly high standards after losing two of the last three games.
However they are without star halves pairing Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary who will remain on the sidelines through injury and suspension respectively until the start of the finals campaign.
Penrith do have strength in depth but the stats show that their completion rate has dropped with Cleary and Luai out of the side, which emphasises how important they are.
The Panthers slipped to a 16-0 defeat on home soil against the Melbourne Storm last week but it wasn’t due to a lack of trying. Indeed it took some outstanding defence from the Storm to keep them out.
Thankfully for the Panthers they kept their six-point lead at the top of the intact as the North Queensland Cowboys in second also slipped to a defeat.
It means a victory over the Rabbitohs on Thursday night will wrap up the minor premiership.
They will be out to bounce back following last week’s defeat and there is some good news as fullback Dylan Edwards will return to the side after recovering from the sternum injury that forced him out against Melbourne.
Liam Martin has also been passed fit to play despite suffering what looked to be a nasty ankle injury last week.
Brian To’o will be a key player on the wing for the Panthers. He may not be as prolific as Johnston for the bunnies but he has still chipped in with six tries from 13 games this season.