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Prop Sam Rapira is one of six Warriors who are familiar with the coaching nuances of now-Penrith mentor Ivan Cleary.
The Warriors face one of their biggest challenges of the season when they take on the high-flying Panthers on Sunday, but are looking to take advantage of some inside knowledge of their opponents.

Six of the 17 Warriors named for the clash at Mount Smart Stadium remain from opposition coach Ivan Cleary’s days at the New Zealand club.

Veteran prop Sam Rapira, who made his debut under Cleary back in 2006, confirmed they have a fair idea of what to expect from the second-placed Panthers.

“I suppose there are a couple of things that he [Cleary] tends to like to do with teams, but we have been doing a lot of video work this week too,” Rapira said.

“He definitely likes his forwards going through the middle, with the pack they have got we are definitely going to have to be on our game to match it with them.”

As well as having a unique insight into what they may encounter tactically, the Warriors will also come up against three former teammates in Lewis Brown, Jeremy Latimore and Elijah Taylor.

“It is always something different coming up against old friends. You are mates off the field but once you are on then it is game on,” Rapira said.

“The players they have from here are definitely quality, so we will have to perform well this week.”

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Coach Andrew McFadden believed the Panthers, who sit on a five-game winning streak, will be the Warriors’ biggest test to date and is expecting improvement from his side after last week’s scrappy 19-10 victory over Brisbane.
“I certainly think we can play better. I know I was critical of our performance but it was a good sign that we actually won the game and didn't play our best footy,” McFadden said.

“They [the Panthers] are at the top of the table and there for a reason.

“They are a very well-balanced side, a very consistent side and they can challenge you from anywhere on the park.

“We are going to have a very tough game this week.”

But the rookie coach was quick to play down the homecoming of Cleary and co, believing the club had completely changed since their departure.

“[Ivan] hasn’t been here for quite a number of years now, so I imagine the style has changed a fair bit,” McFadden said.

“Certainly I haven’t studied what he used to do and I would like to think we have our own style here.”

The Warriors haven’t tasted victory against the Panthers since 2012, losing their past three head-to-head contests.

That includes last year’s 62-6 crushing at Sportingbet Stadium, a record defeat which remains a painful memory for the Warriors’ playing group according to Rapira.

“I suppose it does still hurt a bit, but we are a totally different side to what we were last year,” he said.

“That has happened but we are on a clean platform now so we just have to give it to them on Sunday.”

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