There has been speculation out of the Penrith Panthers that injured forward Petero Civoniceva could make a sneaky return for this Friday Nights big clash at Parramatta Stadium against the in-form Eels.
Civoniceva was injured in State of Origin Game 2, where the big prop had the tendons ripped apart inside his big toe. With the tendons apparently ripped from the bone, the Queensland and Australia prop didn’t seem likely to play again in 2009.
However a speedy recovery and an urgency to get back to assist the Panthers into the semi-finals could see the talented front rower sneak onto the bench at the 11th hour.
Coach Matt Elliot and Panthers officials are tight lipped about the move, however there is no mistaking how big this game is for both Panthers and Eels; locked on 27 competition points and virtually needing to win both remaining games each to confirm a finals spot.
Parramatta Stadium is a sell-out and the Eels are riding a hotstreak of 6 games. Out to stop the roll is the likes of Luke Lewis who is back to career best form, as is workhorse backrower Trent Waterhouse. But while Michael Jennings is the real go-to man for the Panthers it seems big rampaging forward Frank Pritchard holds the real key.
The Eels will look to smother Jennings, as the Panthers will Hayne. But with Pritchard, when he is ‘on’ he is a player that simply cannot be stopped.
It all depends what mood big Frank the Tank turns up in.
He can turn up some nights and tear other teams apart with his blockbusting runs. Leaving defenders in his wake as he crashes through the line or hits a gap and delivers a sizzling offload to a speed man like Jennings.
However, on other nights Pritchard can turn up with his mind obviously elsewhere. He will run at half pace, drop the ball from simple takes and you’ll see him turn around and laugh about the mistake.
A massive case of Jeckyl and Hyde, but if the big boy has his mind on the job – then this game will go right down to the wire.
Statistically, there is a lot between these teams since they last met a few months ago. The Eels are standouts in all categories from attacking points, line breaks, offloads and less breaks conceeded than most teams.
The Panthers however have had issues with their defence. They are a hot side with ball in hand and can really score a try, but without possession their concentration can drop away and the chinks in the armour appear, much like what happened in Brisbane only a fortnight ago.
The scene is set, the race to the finals continues and this will be yet another hot match up to kick off Round 25 of the 2009 NRL.