Schick Hydro Preview: Penrith Panthers v Warriors
Saturday, 5.00pm (NZT)
For the second time this year the Warriors will play an away game without leaving New Zealand waters, being hosted in Christchurch by a Panthers side whose position on the table probably doesn’t do justice to just how good they have been in 2016.
Eighth-placed Penrith have been the kings of tight clashes this year – both winning and losing – and they are yet to be involved in a game where the margin is more than eight points.
For Saturday's Indigenous Round clash at AMI Stadium, Anthony Griffin welcomes back Waqa Blake to the centres, partnering Peta Hiku who appears to have overcome the knee injury which kept him out of the Kiwis squad for last week's Test.
Former Warrior Suaia Matagi is named on a five-man bench, as James Fisher-Harris battles to overcome a hip injury.
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden meanwhile welcomes back two of the players he stood down for off-field issues two weeks ago, with Bodene Thompson named to start and Ben Matulino on the bench.
Tuimoala Lolohea and Thomas Leuluai both return from injury at fullback and five-eighth respectively, which sees Jeff Robson out of the squad and Matthew Allwood drop to 18th man.
This will be the first time Christchurch has hosted an NRL game since the Warriors played the Roosters in the South Island city back in 2010.
Watch out Panthers: Injuries and off-field issues meant the Warriors had only three players front up for rep duty last weekend, and they should be refreshed and in better physical shape because of it. The Panthers on the other hand had seven take the field over the Representative Round, with several key players, including forward leaders Bryce Cartwright and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, playing big minutes for their respective teams.
Missed tackles continue to be a huge problem for Penrith. They lead the entire competition in that category, and in their last three games average 41.6 misses. While you can offset a negative stat like that sometimes, eventually it's going to cost you results. Tackling is an area they must address this week.
Watch out Warriors: Beware of second-phase play. Penrith lead the NRL in offloads, averaging 15 per game, and are a huge threat when you fail to contain the ball in the tackle. Back-rower Cartwright has been the most prolific for the Panthers when it comes to getting the ball away, with 19 offloads so far this year. He is followed closely by Hiku on 18.
So far the Panthers average only 19.8 points conceded, while in the four games they have won this year the Warriors have averaged 30.5 scored. That leaves McFadden's side with the task of either dismantling the stubborn Panthers line, or finding a way to win with a much lower points tally.
Key match-up: Matt Moylan v Tuimoala Lolohea. Two fullbacks with skillsets to match most halves, both these players love to chime in on set plays and can influence a game in a number of different ways. After spending the start of the season out injured Moylan has played five matches and is averaging 116 run metres. But it's his ability to set up play for Penrith's talented outside backs which presents the biggest danger this week. Lolohea meanwhile has six line breaks in eight games and is among the most dangerous ball runners the Warriors have.
The history: Played 35; Panthers 19, Warriors 15, Drawn 1. The overall record is fairly even, but in recent times it's been almost all the Panthers, having won five of the last six games against the Warriors. The four most recent clashes between these two sides have been close, with the winning margin being 16 points or less on each of those occasions.
What are the odds: Penrith have been the best backed team of the entire round by a long way. Sportsbet reports 90 per cent of money invested on the winner has gone on the Panthers. Penrith 13+ is also the most popular margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: Tim Roby and Anthony Eliott. Review Officials: Steve Chiddy. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 2.30pm (AEST).
How we see it: Unlike the Warriors, the gap between Penrith's best and worst games this year has been small, and they are accustomed to staying in the grind. The Kiwi side haven't been able to put together good performances in consecutive weeks so far in 2016 and will struggle to match what the Panthers bring this week. Penrith by four.