Panthers v Warriors preview
Penrith Panthers v New Zealand Warriors
Saturday 5.30pm (AEST)
This Saturday Pepper Stadium will see the coming together of a team clinging to their last chance of making the finals, and one that is pretty much now just playing for pride in 2015.
Both the Warriors and Panthers share a common reason for why sit as low as they do on the Telstra Premiership ladder, with injuries continuing to cruel the campaigns of both sides.
The casualty ward at Penrith currently houses 10 players, while the Warriors have seven out.
The Panthers head into Saturday off the back of five straight losses, and produced a dour effort in losing 10-6 to the Eels last up.
But coach Ivan Cleary has made only minimal adjustments, with the experienced David Simmons coming in on the wing for Waqa Blake and Bryce Cartwright and Sika Manu swapping between the bench and back row.
Last week the Warriors suffered their heaviest defeat since May 2013, and given the way they performed in the 36-0 loss to the Dragons it's not surprising to see they have a number of changes.
Veteran prop Sam Rapira comes into the team, while Raymond Faitala-Mariner is promoted to the back row in place of the suspended Ben Matulino.
Ryan Hoffman returns from a calf injury, which sees Sebastine Ikahihifo drop out of the team, while Konrad Hurrell replaces Siliva Havili on the bench.
Manu Vatuvei's shoulder injury means Jonathan Wright starts on the wing with Dominique Peyroux named in the centres.
Watch out Panthers: Heading into Round 23 the Panthers are tied with the Dragons for the fewest tries scored in the Telstra Premiership, averaging just 2.9 per game. Only three times this season have Penrith managed to score more than 24 points in a game, and this week they might be one of the few teams in the competition whose attack could be worse than the Warriors'.
Desperation can do funny things to NRL teams, and this week Penrith face a mob who are almost certainly facing a must-win situation. Despite their injury situation and awful form of late, the Warriors have shown they have the talent to blow teams away in 2015, and they will surely be pumped for this one.
Watch out Warriors: The Kiwi side has a serious problem right now; they aren't very good at stopping points and are even worse at scoring them. It is very hard to win games in this competition if you are below par in both of those categories, and in the Warriors' past four games they have scored just 26 points (averaging out at 6.5 per game), and conceded 110 (averaging out at 27.5 per game).
Earlier this week coach Andrew McFadden came out and openly admitted that some of his players who took the field against the Dragons weren't up to NRL standard. That might spur the squad on to prove him wrong this Saturday night, or it might be another kick in the guts for a team already critically low on self-confidence and belief.
Key Match-Up: Elijah Taylor v Simon Mannering. The two Kiwi tackling machines will skipper their sides this weekend, and their clash in the middle of the park will be crucial to the eventual outcome of the game. Don't expect the pair to come together too often, but their clean-up efforts and overall work ethic on defence is top class, with Taylor averaging 50 tackles per game and Mannering 46.
The History: Played 34; Panthers 18, Warriors 15, drawn 1. Penrith have enjoyed a positive recent record against this week's opponents, winning four of their past five encounters. But the Warriors can take some comfort from the fact that they have won seven games against the Panthers in Sydney.
What Are The Odds: Not exactly the biggest betting game of the weekend, but Sportsbet punters have placed twice as much money on the Panthers in head-to-head markets. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Did You Know: This will be the second time in less than a year that the Warriors have faced the Panthers in a crunch clash where their finals hopes could be on the line. In Round 26 last year the Warriors went down 22-6 to Penrith, a result which ultimately saw the Kiwi side miss the top eight by 13 differential points.
Match Officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Brett Suttor and Clayton Sharpe. Video Referees: Bernard Sutton and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports - Live from 5.30pm AEST. Sky Sport – Live from 7.30pm NZT.
The Way We See It: Both sides have had a month to forget in terms of their results, and still have a number of key stars missing. But it's tough to see this Warriors side being able to travel away to Penrith and come up with the defence, or attack, required to get victory. Penrith to have the edge and win by eight.