Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v Penrith Panthers
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 5pm (NZT), 3pm (AEST)
A spot in the NRL Telstra Premiership top eight could be up for grabs when the Warriors host the Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.
In Round 19 Penrith leapfrogged the Warriors into eighth spot, with just two competition points and eight differential points separating them on the ladder ahead of this weekend.
After suffering a second-consecutive golden point loss last week, the Warriors have no new additions to their squad.
But coach Andrew McFadden has made a couple of positional changes, the most notable of which sees Tuimoala Lolohea shift from the bench to fullback.
David Fusitu'a moves to right centre in place of Blake Ayshford, who drops back to the bench.
Following a cprehensive 31-12 win over the Broncos last Friday, Penrith have named an unchanged line-up, but have included potential NRL debutants Andy Saunders and Viliame Kikau on an extended bench.
Watch out Warriors: Short lapses in concentration have cost them dearly in their last three defeats. In each of those games McFadden's men have experienced a 10-minute period where they have leaked at least two tries – a killer in games where they went on to lose in golden point. Maintaining concentration levels will be critical this week.
The Panthers have plenty of points in them this season, and limiting them presents a huge challenge for the Warriors. Over the past 10 weeks Penrith have been held to 18 or fewer points just twice, and on both occasions it was against the NRL's top two sides in the Sharks and Storm.
Watch out Panthers: Penrith are the competition's second-worst offenders when it comes to missed tackles, averaging 33.5 per game this season. The worst individual performer so far has been Bryce Cartwright, who averages 3.1 per game (sixth worst in the NRL).
The Warriors haven't leaked more than 22 points in regulation time since way back in Round 11. Across their last seven games the Kiwi outfit have conceded only 16.2 on average. It has been a big area of improvement for the Warriors in the second part of the season, and right now breaking down their line is no easy task.
Key match-up: Shaun Johnson v Nathan Cleary. Only a few years ago Nathan Cleary was the ball boy for Shaun Johnson and the Warriors – during dad Ivan's time as head coach at the club – but fast forward to this Saturday and he will face off with the Kiwi international in a pivotal battle at Mt Smart Stadium. Johnson builds his game off running, averaging 75 metres and having registered 12 line breaks in 18 games. Cleary meanwhile has emerged as a late contender for rookie of the year, setting up three tries and three line breaks in seven games to date, and bringing a composed presence to Penrith's halves.
The history: Played 36; Warriors 15, Panthers 20, Drawn 1. The Panthers have enjoyed a strong period against the Warriors of late, with six wins from their last seven head-to-head clashes. Penrith win over 50 per cent of the time when they play in New Zealand, with nine victories from 17 visits.
What are the odds: The money is running 4:1 in favour of the Panthers in Sportsbet's head-to-head market. Both sides have been backed to win the game by 1-12 points, so we could be in for a tight one if the market is to be believed. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Touch Judges: Rohan Best and Shane Rehm. Review Officials: Byran Norrie and Steve Chiddy. Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 2.30pm (AEST).
How we see it: Both of these teams have unorthodox styles which so often delivers a quality and entertaining product on the field. Both come into the match in hot form, despite the Warriors losing their last two encounters. Playing at home and with the pain of back-to-back golden point defeats in the back of their minds, the Warriors should have enough to win this one. Warriors by eight.