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RD 20 - Sea Eagles v Panthers

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - 9:53 AM

Sea Eagles v Panthers
Brookvale Oval
Sunday 3PM

For all the games Preston Campbell can win for you, he can lose them just as easily. Size does matter in defence in the NRL, and while the Gold Coast Titan recruit has a huge heart and throws his body on the line constantly in defence, he just can’t hide the fact that he is a huge weakness in the Panthers’ tackling line.

After a confidence-boosting win over the Cowboys, the Panthers need to continue their roll if they are to threaten for the semi finals. Meanwhile, the Eagles are looking to return to their early-season form.

Des Hasler’s men may have won their past two games but they’ve been far from convincing; they’ll be looking to up the ante at fortress Brookvale this Sunday afternoon to consolidate their fifth-place position.

The Sea Eagles’ coaching staff can’t ignore the Panthers right-side defence where Campbell hides. Penrith coach John Lang believes having Campbell on the wing in defence keeps him out of the firing line, but the good teams still find him, and take full advantage.

The right side of the mountain men’s defence has leaked 31 tries compared to just 16 on the left, in what is surely a concern to Lang.

With Campbell on the wing and Michael Gordon and Danny Galea inside him it’s far from a defensive vault on that edge – you can expect the Eagles to send plenty of traffic in that direction.

You only have to look at their most recent encounter, a 29-22 victory to Manly at Penrith in round 13, to see what the game plan will be.

Manly’s left-side attack will consist of centre Steve Matai, back rower Glenn Stewart, winger Michael Robertson and also involve fullback Brett Stewart, with lock Ben Kennedy chiming in.

Three of Manly’s tries in the round 13 clash came from targeting Campbell. Brett Stewart’s first try came when Campbell hung back on the last tackle and Matt Orford had the vision to run the ball. A clever offload from Ben Kennedy saw the space exploited and Stewart crossed.

Steve Menzies then scored a simple four-pointer when he latched onto a cross-field kick. The diminutive Campbell was out-jumped and will always struggle against the taller men.

Brett Stewart’s third try for the afternoon once again came from a Campbell defensive lapse. This time he over-read the play, rushed out of the line and was exposed, leaving a massive gap.

Matai, Kennedy and Glenn Stewart will also target this side coming out from their own half, looking for cheap metres against the weaker defenders. Watch for Matai to target the inside shoulder of a defender – as the Panthers slide out in defence, he can run an “unders” line back on the inside shoulder and then use his strength to bust the tackle. (He used this play to great effect recently against Brett Kimmorley at Cronulla.)

Penrith’s attack is usually quite predictable; a handful of one-out runs and then a kick but in recent times there has been a bit of variation. In their opening 10 games this season they had a total of five “tip-ons” (where one forward tips the ball onto another), with Joel Clinton providing four of them. In their past four games they have had nine tip ons shared between six different forwards, so maybe the shackles are off.

They should look to target Matai and the Eagles’ right-side defence. The Kiwi centre has a tendency to slide early, leaving big gaps between him and Matt Orford, so with some good angled runs the Panthers could exploit this.

There main attacking weapon in the forwards will be Frank Pritchard who runs on the left edge. He’ll run an overs line towards the left before cutting back with a big left-foot step.

The Panthers will need to improve their kicking game. Craig Gower’s long kicking accuracy has been awful this season, especially considering he’s been one of the competition’s best over the years. He has found space on only 39.4 per cent of occasions, while Campbell is barely better at just 41 per cent.

By comparison, Orford finds the grass on 52.9 per cent of occasions while Michael Monaghan hits space 67.4 per cent of the time. Hitting space allows chasers more time.

Danger sign: Injuries are beginning to mount for the Sea Eagles. First it was Steve Bell, then Steve Menzies and Anthony Watmough. Skipper Ben Kennedy limped from Telstra Stadium last Saturday night but is expected to be fit.

Best Bet? On home soil, Manly look good things to score the first try

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