• Stewart Moses

LAST SAY: Griffin defends Rein omission, admits officiating concerns


Much has been made of Griffin's selection calls in 2017.

The decision to drop Te Maire Martin.

The decision to eventually move Matt Moylan to five-eighth.

The decision to play Reagan Campbell-Gillard off the bench.

And of course the decision to drop Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku to the Intrust Super Premiership for a week after breaking curfew in Melbourne.

But the decision to rely on Sione Katoa and possibly Tyrone May instead of Mitch Rein to oppose inform Canberra rake Josh Hodgson in the absence of the injured Peter Wallace (hand), is quite possibly the biggest call Griffin has made yet in 2017.

Katoa (8 NRL games) and May (4) come up against the English international, who after a slow start of to the season, has struck form at the right time to put Canberra in with a show of making a last ditch run at the finals.

Griffin says Katoa (and to that effect May) has been preferred over their 137 NRL game teammate on the basis of current involvement with the first grade squad as well as the versatility on offer.

"Sione's a young kid who's been coming through our system and played a little bit of first grade and always done well when he's been up there and there's a lot of confidence that he'll do a good job," Griffin responded.

"Sione's been in our squad for four or five weeks now coming off the bench and he's also got some versatility.

"He can play in the halves or at a pinch, he can play on an edge.

"He's a very physical type of player who covers a lot more positions and with Tyrone May coming off the bench as well, it gives us a bit of (extra) versatility.

While Griffin concedes the loss of veteran Peter Wallace is a blow, the Panthers coach says the return of test forward Trent Merrin (knee) after a five-week layoff balances Wallace's unavailability, before declaring his number one hooker will return for the top eight deciding Dragons clash next Sunday.

"Wal's (Wallace) a big loss but hopefully it's going to be just the one week," Griffin replied.

"I just saw him here this morning. He's pretty confident he'll be right for Sunday against the Dragons.

"Losing Wallace is a loss of senior player with experience, but Trent will play tomorrow so that balances that up a little bit for us.

"Trent's got a lot of experience. He's a test player and done a great job for us as a player over the past two years.

"So even though we would love to have Peter there, to have that type of forward come into your side particularly against these guys tomorrow it's a real boost for us."

The Panthers are looking to become the first team this season to win seven games in a row and not only become one of just a handful of teams to have recovered from a 2-7 start to make the finals, possibly become the first to make the top four.

Standing in the way are an in-form Raiders outfit looking for it's fourth win in a row as they must win all remaining games to have any chance of making the eight.

Both teams have equal motivations against the other coming into the latest chapter of a rivalry that hasn't be separated after 71 previous encounters.

For the Raiders, they will be hell-bent on gaining redemption for allowing a 20-12 lead to slip away in two minutes of Moylan magic earlier this season in Bathurst.

But the Panthers will equally believe they owe Canberra the pain of finals eliminations on their home soil, having had their 2016 finals campaign ended at today's venue, GIO Stadium.

Photos: 77 Media.

However today clash presets many challenges for Griffin's still relatively inexperienced side.

Apart from playing in a hostile environment with a big pro-Raiders crowd of between 15-20,000 expected to be on hand , Griffin downplayed Penrith's prospects of gaining a top four spot and instead suggested the match officials led by Ashley Klein, could pose an additional challenge for his team.

Those concerns are somewhat well-founded given that of all current referees to have officiated ten or more Penrith games, the Panthers have struggled the most under Klein.

The Panthers have under Klein lost fourteen of nineteen games including their last four games, having last won under the referee since their last win back in Round 23, 2015.

That concern is heightened by the fact that the Panthers have yet to record a win away from home in six attempts when Klein has officiated.

""The goal (today) is Canberra, that's the only two points we can take control of," Griffin declared. "It doesn't get much tougher on the road than going up against Canberra in Canberra, who are a (physical) side in really good form fighting for their season.

"There will be a crowd against us as well and no doubt we'll be on the back of a penalty count at some stage as well.

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"So the physicality of the opposition, the crowd, the referee, they're the big challenges for us .

"It's going to be a really big ask of us but it will be really good to get down there and play a real tough finals type game of football."

PENRITH V CANBERRA - THE FACTS

OVERALL: PLAYED 71 WON 35 LOST 35 DRAW 1

AT GIO STADIUM: PLAYED 26 WON 8 LOST 18

PENRITH HAVE WON 3 OF THE LAST 8 AND JUST ONE OF THE LAST FIVE MATCHES AT GIO STADIUM

PENRITH LOOKING FOR BACK-TO-BACK WINS AGAINST FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 2014.

PENRITH LOOKING FOR SEVEN WINS IN A ROW FOR THE THIRD TIME OVERALL AND FIRST SINCE 2005-06

PENRITH HAVE LEAST NUMBER OF AWAY GAMES OF ALL TOP 8 TEAMS (4 FROM 10)

ANTHONY GRIFFIN LEADS RICKY STUART 4-3 IN HEAD-TO-HEAD CLASHES

JORDAN RAPANA WHO HAS SCORED 7 TRIES IN 6 GAMES PLAYED V PENRITH, NEEDS 2 TRIES TO REACH 50 NRL TRIES FOR THE RAIDERS.

DAVID TAYLOR (6) AND AIDEN SEZER (5) HAVE SCORED MORE TRIES IN THEIR NRL CAREERS AGAINST PENRITH

JOSH PAPALII (11 GAMES) AND JACK WIGHTON (10 GAMES) HAVE YET TO SCORE A TRY AGAINST PENRITH.

JAMES TAMOU 9 WINS FROM 11 GAMES V CANBERRA HIS BEST WIN/LOSS RECORD OF ALL NRL CLUBS PLAYED.

#NRLRaidersPanthers #NRL #PenrithPanthers #AnthonyGriffin #RugbyLeague

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