The Panthers, who defeated the Reds 30-18 in the opening round of the competition, will be hosting the Vase Samania-coached team at Victoria Park.
After their round one win, Panthers maintained a winning run, beating defending champions Avatiu Nikao Eels, as well as the Arorangi Cowboys and Titikaveka Bulls.
In the return match against the Reds for today’s The Bond Store match of the week, the Darren Piri-coached side will be the top favourites. A win will further extend their lead at the top of the points table.
“It was a good contest in round one – the Reds’ unlucky early second-half meltdown when they twice turned over possession, allowing the Panthers to score two converted tries within a five-minute period, being the difference at the end of this game,” said Cook Islands Rugby Union development manager Ben Koteka.
For today the Reds will be hoping to have some of their backline strike players like Viiga Ruepena, Perry Ioane and John Penu back on board.
Coach Samania will be hoping to get the backline combination, stacked with burly Samoans, working so they can heave pressure on the Panthers.
The Reds will also be relying on their hard-working forwards, front rower Murare John Jr and flanker Tuku Samuel, to lead the onslaught upfront.
The Panthers team is built on skill and speed – under the guidance and direction of young halves Othneil ‘Ozzie’ Joseph and Jamian Iroa, Koteka said.
“To date, the Panthers have been the form team of the competition, so far undefeated with four wins on the trot, but if the Reds can get off to a good start then it will be a great contest,” he added.
The Reds suffered a 10-20 loss to the Cowboys last week after the side failed to capitalise on a promising 10-0 lead in the first half.
The Panthers won last week 20-0 against the Bulls, but coach Piri was dissatisfied with their overall performance and he is expecting an improved effort this weekend.
In the other Senior A match, the Cowboys will host archrivals the Eels at Raemaru Park.
“The young Cowboys team experienced their first win of the season against the Reds so they should be quietly confident heading into this match,” Koteka said.
The Eels defeated the Cowboys 15-0 in the opening round at The Swamp.
There will be no junior competition this weekend.