The Canberra Raiders will be searching for four straight wins and also looking to stop another streak when they face the Panthers in Penrith on Saturday.
Ironically last year, it was the Raiders who ended Penrith’s seven-game win streak as well at the Panthers Stadium.
The Raiders scathed pass the North Queensland Cowboys last week but will be looking for a more polished performance as they look to stop the table-topping Panthers.
Although a scrappy performance, the Raiders were buoyed by the strong returns of Curtis Scott and John Bateman, with the duo causing a lot of problems for the Cowboys down the right edge.
In what was his first appearance in green since the 2019 Grand Final, Bateman looked like he was never absent as he ran for 158 metres and registered a try assist.
Scott was also a notable inclusion returning from an arm infection, he was heavily involved also with the centre running for 122 metres and scoring his second try of the season.
The Raiders will need a better performance this week as they tackle the competition leaders on enemy soil.
Although a tough task, the Raiders can take plenty of confidence going into the clash after defeating Penrith on both occasions last season.
The Raiders are sitting in fifth position on 16 competition points, equal with the fourth place Sydney Roosters, while Penrith are sitting at outright top with 21 points.
A win here will go a long way for both teams, Canberra will look to keep up to pace with the top four, while the Panthers are looking to keep their position at the summit with only a win good enough to keep their outright lead secure.
Penrith were red-hot last week as they defeated the Manly Sea Eagles 42-12 at Lottoland, halfback Nathan Cleary kept up his scintillating form with a personal tally of 18 points, which included a try.
The Raiders will need to maintain the threat of Penrith’s backline, in particular Stephen Crichton who has been one of the better performing centres of the competition and already has 11 tries this season.
Coach Ricky Stuart has made a few changes, most notably Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has returned from a finger injury and will take his place in the starting fullback role and Jordan Rapana switches back to the wing for the injured Semi Valemi.
The Panthers have only made the one change, boom rookie Charlie Staines ruled out with a hamstring injury and he is replaced by Malakai Watene-Zelezniak.
The Raiders ended the Panthers seven match winning streak and cemented their position inside the top four in the process with a comprehensive 30-18 victory at Panthers Stadium. John Bateman iced the victory inside the final four minutes with a late individual try off a dropout.
CNK excited by returning players
Curtis Scott vs Stephen Crichton
Scott returned from injury in style last week but has his work cut out for him this week when he meets the in-form centre of the competition.
A solid display which silenced a lot of the doubters, Scott will be looking to emulate a similar performance while also aiming to keep Crichton quiet, which will be no easy task.
Scott produced some big runs getting his side out of danger from his own half and will need to provide that platform again.
Crichton has been white-hot in his debut season, he has recorded 11 tries and sits equal second in that tally, he is big and strong and will provide to be a handful for Canberra’s right edge.
A lot is expected from both men on Saturday, expect Penrith to throw plenty down the Raiders right hand side.
George Williams vs Nathan Cleary
Two in-form halfbacks who are doing plenty for their respective sides, expect nothing less when Williams and Cleary meet.
Williams has been a revelation for the Raiders since his arrival this year, he keeps providing his side with opportunities and has found a try scoring touch as well as of late.
The English international ran for 91 metres last week and scored a great halfback try in support where he showed a clean pair of heels.
On the other side, Cleary has been a standout performer for his side with many predicting State of Origin honours for the young half at the seasons end.
Both players look dangerous when they take the ball to the line and playing with a similar mindset, whoever gets more involved will go a long way in determining the outcome of this clash.
John Bateman vs Viliame Kikau
When these two met last year in Wagga Wagga it was fierce and enticing before serious injuries to both men ended their afternoons.
It is a case of unfinished business, not only with Kikau but for a quest for a premiership for the departing Bateman.
Bateman returned last week in style and provided plenty of go forward and some brutal defence which tightened the right edge.
Kikau plays a similar role for the Panthers, he is an enforcer and knows how to find the stripe, with already four tries registered in 2020.
Expect fireworks when these two meet, with unfinished business on either end, strap yourselves in for a mouth-watering battle between two passionate backrowers.
Croker: There's no bigger challenge for us this week
Head to head:
In 44 battles between to two sides, they can’t be split with both sides registering 22 wins apiece which both including a Grand Final triumph over each other in 1990 (Raiders) and 1991 (Panthers) respectively.
1990 Grand Final Highlights: Raiders v Panthers