The Sydney Roosters' biggest test of 2021 may just come in the form of the Penrith Panthers this Friday night, which promises to be a blockbuster at Panthers Stadium as Easts head west.
Recent History: Sydney Roosters vs Penrith Panthers
Friday night marks the 100th meeting between the Sydney Roosters and Penrith Panthers since 1967, the year the Panthers entered the competition.
The Tricolours have a 61% winning record against their opponents, with 60 wins, 38 losses and one solitary draw going back to 1967.
Penrith, however, has had bragging rights in the last two contests, with the Roosters' last win coming in Round 24, 2019 with a 22-6 victory en route to the Premiership, although the sides have three wins each in the last six encounters.
In recent weeks the Roosters have found some momentum heading into the second half of the season with wins over the Raiders and Titans, while the Panthers have suffered back-to-back defeats during the early stages of the State of Origin period.
How They Line Up
Trent Robinson has made a number of changes to the side that defeated the Gold Coast Titans in Round 14, welcoming back three key plays in James Tedesco, Siosiua Taukeiaho and Sam Verrills.
Captain Tedesco makes a return at fullback, shifting Joseph Manu to the centres, while Daniel Tupou, Josh Morris and Matt Ikuvalu make up the remainder of the backline.
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan EdwardsFullback for Roosters is number 1 James Tedesco
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Charlie StainesWinger for Roosters is number 2 Daniel Tupou
Centre for Panthers is number 3 Stephen CrichtonCentre for Roosters is number 3 Josh Morris
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Matt BurtonCentre for Roosters is number 21 Joseph Suaalii
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'oWinger for Roosters is number 5 Matt Ikuvalu
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Jarome LuaiFive-Eighth for Roosters is number 4 Joseph Manu
Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan ClearyHalfback for Roosters is number 6 Lachlan Lam
Prop for Panthers is number 8 Moses LeotaProp for Roosters is number 8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Apisai KoroisauHooker for Roosters is number 9 Adam Keighran
Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-HarrisProp for Roosters is number 17 Fletcher Baker
2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Liam Martin2nd Row for Roosters is number 11 Angus Crichton
2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Kurt Capewell2nd Row for Roosters is number 13 Isaac Liu
Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah YeoLock for Roosters is number 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Mitch KennyInterchange for Roosters is number 14 Sam Verrills
Interchange for Panthers is number 15 Scott SorensenInterchange for Roosters is number 15 Egan Butcher
Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Izack TagoInterchange for Roosters is number 16 Daniel Suluka-Fifita
Interchange for Panthers is number 18 Spencer LeniuInterchange for Roosters is number 19 Ben Thomas
Reserve for Panthers is number 21 Brent NadenReserve for Roosters is number 18 Billy Smith
- Referee: Ashley Klein
- Touch Judge: Phil Henderson
- Touch Judge: Dave Munro
- Senior Review Official: Henry Perenara
Lachlan Lam and Sam Walker pair up once again in the halves, while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Adam Keighran and Taukeiaho pack down in the front row. Angus Crichton and Sitili Tupouniua - who plays his 50th NRL match for the Club on Friday night - line up in the second row as Isaac Liu locks up the scrum to round off the starting side.
Verrills, Egan Butcher, Daniel Suluka-Fifita and Fletcher Baker have been named on the interchange bench, while Tuku Hau Tapuha, Ben Thomas, Billy Smith and Joseph Suaalii round off the extended bench.
The Panthers will be buoyed by the return of five of their State of Origin contingent in Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Brian To'o, Isaah Yeo and Kurt Capewell, which will no doubt be a massive boost to their line up.
Key Matchup: James Tedesco vs Nathan Cleary
Two of the biggest superstars - not only for their respective teams but in the competition - come head-to-head as Blues teammates become rivals this Friday night.
Despite lining up in different positions, there's no doubt that James Tedesco and Nathan Cleary are two of the most influential players in the competition, and will come together just over a week since leading NSW to a 50-6 victory in the first State of Origin match of 2021.
Tedesco has taken the mantle as Club captain following a turbulent start to 2021 for the Red, White and Blue, which saw both co-captains Jake Friend and Boyd Cordner announce their retirements mid-season. Despite the setbacks, the electric fullback has amassed an impressive seven tries and eight try assists while averaging 160 metres in his eleven games during the infancy of his newfound responsibility.
He'll have plenty of work to do against the second-placed Panthers though, with their own co-captain Cleary in career-best form with seven tries of his own, twelve assists and 114 average metres.
With the pair each missing game time due to representative commitments, both will be looking to stamp their authority with a strong performance on Friday night and come away with the all-important two competition points.
What Coach Robinson Said
"I felt like Boyd handled himself as he should; as a leader of our game, the Australian captain and NSW and Roosters captain. He said what he needed to say and we’re really proud of him." - on Boyd Cordner's retirement announcement.
“It’s good to see Sam back. He just got cleared this morning so that’s a real positive for us. We get the artist behind the play-the-ball and get him playing again. It’s been a while but it’s time for him to get back out there." - on Sam Verrills' return.
Coach's Media - Round 15
With both sides welcoming back key players, including some of the best players in the competition, there's no doubt that this Friday night's clash at Panthers Stadium is set to light up Round 15 as one of the games of the year.
The Roosters will be looking to build on their recent form, while the Panthers will be hoping to return to their winning ways after falling short in the last couple of weeks.
Be sure to get your tickets here, head to Kingswood Sports Club pre-match to meet some Roosters royalty, and cheer on the Red, White and Bluesters!
If you can't make it to the big match, be sure to get to easts for the best game-day experience, which will have the game live and loud on the big screen, 49% off beverages afterwards as well as live music!
Don't forget - it's the NRL's Beanies for Brain Cancer Round! Support the Mark Hughes Foundation in their quest to beat brain cancer by either buying a beanie at the ground or online, or donating on their website.