Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v Panthers
Mount Smart Stadium
Friday, 8pm NZT, 6pm AEDT
Tied on 18 competition points and sitting two wins outside of the NRL Telstra Premiership top eight, Friday night in Auckland shapes as a pivotal match to the 2017 hopes of both the Warriors and Penrith Panthers.
While Stephen Kearney's side enjoyed the week off with a bye, Penrith ground out a tough 16-8 victory over the fourth-placed Manly Sea Eagles, which keeps them right in the play-off frame.
Prop Albert Vete (arm) and hooker Nathaniel Roache (hamstring) are both out with injuries sustained in Round 17, but the home side get a boost via the return of Kiwi internationals Solomone Kata and Issac Luke.
Sam Lisone returns to the bench, with Bunty Afoa named to start in the second row.
Penrith maintain a settled line-up, with James Fisher-Harris's return on the bench in the place of Sitaleki Akauola the only change made by Anthony Griffin.
The match has taken on a new dimension for the Warriors after it was announced mid-week that Manu Vatuvei will depart for Salford in the Super League, with the club renaming the venue 'Manu Vatuvei Stadium' for Friday night, in recognition of his farewell match.
Why the Warriors can win: Heading into Round 19 the Warriors complete better than any other team in the NRL, with an average completion rate of 79.39 per cent through 16 games. Ball retention has been a huge positive for them this year, and five of their seven wins so far have coincided with them completing 82 per cent or more of their sets. This could give the Kiwi side a huge leg up against a Penrith team who have managed to complete more than 77 per cent of their sets only five times this season.
Why the Panthers can win: Recent form suggests defence could be an area the visitors have an edge in. In five of their last six games Penrith have kept teams to 20 points or less, and most recently they restricted the NRL's equal-best attacking team, Manly, to just two tries and eight points. The Panthers haven't always shown up with the right attitude off the ball this season, but when they do they can be tough to break down.
 Telstra Premiership: Simon Mannering vs Trent Merrin
Minutes Played, All Runs, All Run Metres, Tackles.
The History: Played 38, Warriors 17 wins, Panthers 21 wins, one draw. The overall head-to-head record favours Penrith and so does the recent one, with seven wins from their last nine against the Warriors. They have tended to be close matches of late, with 14 points being the biggest winning margin in the last four encounters. On New Zealand soil the Panthers have won 50 per cent of the time across 18 matches.
What are the odds: It's a fairly even betting game with Sportsbet reporting only slightly more dollars invested on the Warriors in the head-to-head market. Both sides have been backed to win 1-12 so the money suggests we’re in for a tight contest. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Assistant referee: Alan Shortall. Sideline officials: Nick Beashel and Chris McMillan. Review official: Steve Chiddy. Senior review official: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 6pm. Sky Sports - Live coverage from 8pm.
NRL.com predicts: At home the Warriors were always going to be hard to beat in this one, and with the added motivation of giving Manu Vatuvei something to celebrate in his farewell, the Kiwi outfit should be able to get up for a vital win. Warriors by seven.