Warriors v Panthers
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday, 4pm (2pm AEST)
The return clash of the two teams that combined to provide one of the sensations of the season in Round 10, when the Panthers whipped the Warriors to the tune of 62-6 at Centrebet Stadium. It was only in the past couple of minutes that the Warriors finally got on the scoreboard with a try – after the Panthers had scored 10! It was a stunning result that came in the middle of a revival by the Panthers – and which motivated a revival by the Warriors.
The season for the Warriors can be split into three parts. They lost eight of their first 10 games, but then won seven of their next eight to put themselves right back in the race for a place in the finals. But they have stumbled again in the last two rounds, having lost to the Sharks (18-14) and the Sea Eagles (27-12). They can still make the finals, sitting, as they are, in 10th place on 22 points, from nine wins and 11 losses. But they have a poor points for-and-against differential of minus-82. Four wins from the past four rounds would get them into the finals. Three might be enough, but then again it might not, considering their differential.
The Panthers' season can be split into three parts as well. They lost six of their first eight games, but then won six of their next eight to put themselves in the top eight with an 8-8 record. Among the highlights were a 12-10 win over premiers the Storm and the hiding they gave the Warriors.
But in the past four rounds the Panthers have struggled, losing all four. Injuries, particularly to key forwards, caught up with them, and they struggled against the Knights, Sharks and Roosters. Last weekend, they badly needed to beat the Cowboys, but went down 36-4 at home.
The Panthers are 13th on the ladder on 20 points, from eight wins and 12 losses. Their differential is minus -49, but that is not their concern at the moment. They need to win all four games from here to have any chance of making the finals, but it is going to be very hard for them against a Warriors outfit that will be able to regroup at home and which would love to avenge that 56-point drubbing.
The Warriors have elevated Ben Matulino from the bench to start at prop, with Jacob Lillyman dropping to the pine. Jerome Ropati is added to what is a five-man bench.
The Panthers have moved Ryan Simpkins from the bench to lock, Kevin Kingston from lock to hooker and James Segeyaro from hooker to the bench, but it wouldn't be a surprise if they started with Kingston and Segeyaro both in the pack again.
Watch Out Warriors: The season has reached that stage for some teams where they have to roll the dice. The Panthers are one of those. Coach Ivan Cleary played nominated bench hooker Segeyaro for the full 80 minutes against the Cowboys, and could do the same thing here. Segeyaro is overdue to cut loose. He has six line-breaks this season, but none in his past five games. He also has 36 offloads. Segeyaro can score or make tries, and the Panthers badly need a big contribution from him this week.
Watch Out Panthers: The 183cm, 102kg Konrad Hurrell is a wrecking ball playing in the centres for the Warriors. He's just so hard to stop, he's in the Blake Ferguson class. Hurrell went tryless against the Sea Eagles last weekend, but before that he had scored in five straight games. He'll be out there on the right, looking to capitalise on opportunities, or creating them himself.
Plays To Watch: Warriors second-rower Feleti Mateo hasn't quite been himself the past couple of rounds. Normally one of the most dangerous players on the field with his offloads, he had just two against the Sharks... and none against the Sea Eagles. In the Warriors' previous eight games, seven of which they won, he had 28 offloads. That's the Mateo the Warriors will be looking for here.
Lachlan Coote didn't do a lot in his return from injury for the Panthers against the Cowboys, but he had been out since Round 2 so we'll let him off that one. Coote is creative, he's a great support player and he also chases attacking kicks well. Whether he is used at fullback or at five-eighth off the bench here, he's capable of making a big play. The Panthers desperately need that.
Key Match-Up: Warriors fullback Kevin Locke has made two line-breaks and five offloads in his past three games. He has one try during that time. Panthers fullback Matt Moylan has run for big totals despite the Panthers losing each of their past four games. His figures during that time are 133 metres, 154, 183 and 170, plus two line-breaks and four offloads. We're likely to see each of these players do something notable here – and perhaps one of them have a really big impact.
Where It Will Be Won: Before they can hope to do anything themselves, the Panthers are going to have to try to contain a Warriors attack which will be determined to right itself after losing its way in the past two rounds. Look for the Warriors to move the ball swiftly towards the wing in an attempt to get their outside backs on the outside of defenders. They did that brilliantly in their most recent win, against the Storm. If they can do it again here the Panthers are going to be in big trouble. The Panthers have got to find a way of cutting the supply off if they hope to win.
The History: Played 31; Panthers 16, Warriors 14, one draw. Warriors have won five and drawn one of the past 10 clashes. The past four meetings at this venue have been split, two apiece.
Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Chris James; Sideline officials – Dan Eastwood & Luke Potter; Video referees – Shayne Hayne & Justin Morgan.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Warriors v Panthers clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 2pm.
The Way We See It: Expect the Warriors to bounce back to near-best form here. They will sense opportunities against a Panthers outfit that will surely be down on confidence after a couple of recent floggings, and video studies of those Panthers losses will have shown the Warriors that Panthers fullback Matt Moylan is extremely vulnerable when isolated in defence. Moylan is a dangerous attacker, but he is going to have to build up his body in the off-season to handle the defensive load. The Roosters took full advantage of his defensive frailties two rounds back, and the Warriors have the players to similarly test him. Warriors by 18 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats