Warriors v Panthers
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 2pm (NZ Time)

Events of the past week make this perhaps one of the more interesting matches this weekend – will the Panthers respond positively, or negatively, to the news of coach Matthew Elliott’s demise?

With the Panthers board making it known Elliott will not be retained at season’s end, and the players reportedly not being overly impressed by the decision, one wonders what sort of team performance we will see. 

And conversely – the Warriors, who were great and gutsy to beat Melbourne in Melbourne on Anzac Day, have to now try to focus on the task at hand, rather than assume the visitors won’t be at their best. They also have the Kiwi Test squad to be named; in the past, Warriors’ officials have been critical as certain players have been told of their selections before they’ve played, making them go a little easier in the club colours. That won’t be happening this week. 

Form-wise, Penrith were beaten by Manly last weekend, dropping them to 14th spot on the ladder with a 2-5 record. Their two wins have come against fellow strugglers Parramatta and Canberra and should they not turn things around soon their finals appearance of last year will be a distant memory. 

Timana Tahu has been named to start in the centres with Brad Tighe shifting to the wing and Sandor Earl shunted. Yileen Gordon and Adrian Purtell have been added to the bench, which has five men at this stage. 

Milestones loom for Travis Burns and Michael Gordon, with both poised to bring up their 100th NRL games.

The Warriors have retained the line-up from last weekend’s impressive win over Melbourne, a result which moved them to a 3-4 record and ninth place, only out of the top eight on percentages. 

Watch Out Warriors: Nafe Seluini returns to Auckland ready to play with fire-and-brimstone intensity against his former club. The rookie hooker was a key component of the Warriors’ Toyota Cup premiership-winning side last season, recording the most appearances by any player, playing in all 27 for the year. 

In his six games this year Seluini is already averaging superior tackles (16) and game time (31 minutes) to what he tallied in 2010. 

Danger Sign: Watch for Seluini to back himself if given the chance. With tiring forwards around during his stints and a ‘home’ crowd to cheer him on, he might just be gone in a blink of an eye.

Watch Out Panthers: The Warriors must have noticed the Panthers’ inability to shut the ball down in defence and are likely to exploit it. 

While they haven’t been the most prolific offloading team this year, they do have the likes of Feleti Mateo in the mix; he can create second phase better than most in the NRL. 

The Panthers have allowed 107 offloads – more than any other club – and they have also conceded six tries directly from them, again more than any other team.  

Danger Sign: Mateo is the key here – with 21 offloads this season he is the man who can get the Panthers sweating. Simon Mannering (eight), Krisnan Inu (seven) and Lewis Brown (five) are others who like to try to pop a pass out the back after contact.

Plays To Watch: Jennings searching, searching and searching for a try; Mateo’s one-handed carries; Lewis Brown hitting the inside shoulder line hard; Burns trying to niggle his opposite. 

Where It Will Be Won: All-round discipline. This game is going to be about mental approach, preparation and desire. Both sides have reason to be distracted this week, with the Test, City-Country and Elliott’s demise, but the side that can put it behind them and focus will win this contest. 

Discipline on the field has been an issue for the Panthers so far. They are the most penalised team in the NRL with 55 against them. The Warriors are doing better than two penalties a game less with just 40 conceded. If the Panthers have any hope they need to do better with the referees because if the whistle goes against them, human nature will see their heads drop and the Warriors will pounce. 

It’s going to take a lot of effort for them to stick to a game plan and stay on task but they must do it. Often in situations like this teams just throw caution to the wind… they can’t afford to. If they do, the Warriors have to be smart enough not to follow the same path. They have to continue to grind away and get their own results. If they try to go razzle-dazzle essentially they will be inviting the Panthers into a shooting match – which they just might lose. 

The History: Played 26; Warriors 11, Panthers 14, drawn 1. The Panthers return to Mt Smart Stadium with fond memories having smashed the Warriors 40-12 here last year. But the Warriors turned the tables in Penrith later in the season with a 12-6 win. Despite that low-scoring affair an average 54 points has been scored during the past 10 matches between the clubs.

Conclusion: Expect a lot of points here, as chances are defensive commitment won’t be high on the agenda and the two teams have a history of high-scoring games. 

If the Warriors turn up switched on they could easily post a big score on a distracted Penrith – but if they come in complacent, then an angry Penrith could ambush them. 

Seriously – it is almost as likely either team could beat the other by 30. But one should lean towards the Warriors being the ones to get the job done.

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Alan Shortall; Touch Judges – Paul Holland & Gavin West; Video Ref – Steve Clark. 

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 12 noon.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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