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Warriors v Panthers
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday, 4pm (NZT)

This Sunday’s meeting of the Warriors and Panthers at Mount Smart Stadium will see a group of familiar faces clash in a battle to sustain mid-season momentum.

No fewer than five New Zealand-born Panthers will make the trip to Auckland, with three players as well as coach Ivan Cleary having previously played for the Warriors.

There won’t be any time for sentiment however, with the Warriors desperate to earn another victory which will inch them closer to the NRL top eight, and the Panthers keen to keep their spot at the top of the pile.

Penrith continue to make their living off a true team effort, with no individual star jumping out each week. In fact, after 15 rounds the Panthers don’t have a single representative in the competition’s top five for try scorers, try assists, tackles, line breaks or hit-ups.

This week they welcome back Adam Docker into the lock position, which sees Tyrone Peachey revert to the bench and Bryce Cartwright slot in as 18th man.

The Warriors’ season continues to have more stops and starts than a postman’s motorbike, but they were gritty enough to find a 19-10 victory in an unflattering performance against Brisbane last Saturday.

From that game they have lost centre Ngani Laumape to a grade three dangerous throw charge which will see him miss three games.

His loss could be a significant one for the Warriors; not only has he run for over 100 metres in seven of his nine games this year, but his defensive combination with Manu Vatuvei has been solid.

In Laumape’s place comes 103-game veteran Dane Nielsen, in what is an otherwise unchanged line-up from last week.

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Watch Out Warriors: Finding a way through the Panthers’ defensive line can be a frustrating and ultimately fruitless experience. They give up only three line breaks per game on average, and pride themselves on making teams score points the hard way. That won’t be welcome news for the Warriors, who rely heavily on line breaks to both score points and get themselves out of trouble early in tackle counts.

If it’s true that the performance of the number 1, 6, 7 and 9 dictates how the team as a whole will go, then the Panthers are in good hands. At the back Matt Moylan has developed into another playmaking option and already has nine try assists and eight line break assists. On the defensive front he is sharp too, with four recorded try saves to his name so far.

Both Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward are class acts, and together have clocked up 15 try assists and 6408 kick metres. Crafty hooker James Segeyaro tops it all off with quick service from dummy-half and a high work rate in defence which has him averaging 29 tackles per game.

Watch Out Panthers: Penrith miss the third most tackles of any team in the competition, averaging out at 32 per match. That is a dangerous stat heading into a game against a Warriors side who break through would-be tackles like they are going out of fashion. With an average of 25.9 tackle busts per game, the Warriors love to start their sets by sending big men at the line.

The Warriors took a lot of confidence out of winning ugly last week, and their spirit will be hard to break in front of the Mt Smart Stadium faithful. After producing a sluggish opening 20 minutes to both halves against the Broncos, the Warriors were able to wrestle their way back, thanks largely to gutsy defence and tough running. Penrith best be prepared to slog it out for the full 80 against a stubborn team.

Plays To Watch: Power plays in the backline are a given when you have the talent these two sides possess. Between the wingers and centres in their starting side, the Warriors tip the scales at over 400kg, while the Panthers aren’t far behind at around 380. Look for both sets of halves to isolate their big men out wide.

While undoubtedly talented, the Warriors’ backline can be guilty of concentration lapses at times, and you can expect both Wallace and Soward to try their luck with 40/20 attempts often.

Where It Will Be Won: A smart and consistent kicking game will go a long way to limiting the impact of the dynamic backlines in this fixture. In Wallace and Soward the Panthers have a nice balance of long and short options off the boot, and are likely to target rookie winger Fusitu’a. Last week McFadden was blunt in his appraisal of Johnson’s kicking performance, and will expect a vast improvement on Sunday.
The History: Played 32; Panthers 17, Warriors 14, drawn 1. It has been slim pickings for the Warriors in recent meetings with the Panthers, with three straight losses stretching back to August 2012. That includes a club record 62-6 defeat to Penrith last year, a day which remains one of the darkest in Warriors history. 

What Are The Odds: Some 75 per cent of the hold at is on the Penrith side despite the trip to Auckland. They’ve only come in from $2.30 to $2.25 though. Not the biggest betting game of the round.

Match Officials: Referee - Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee - Adam Devcich; Touch Judges - Nick Beashel & Rickey MacFarlane; Video Referees - Bernard Sutton & Ben Galea.

The Way We See It: The Panthers have crept through the opening half of the season almost completely under the radar, and deserve respect for the fact that they sit second on a highly competitive NRL ladder. Penrith head to Auckland with great form and confidence, but that might not be enough. The Warriors have a forward pack which is making a habit of rolling through opposing teams, and home-ground advantage is massive for them. The New Zealanders haven’t cracked the NRL top eight yet this season, but might sneak in after beating the Panthers by four points on Sunday.
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