Warriors v Panthers: Beale out; Ciraldo wields axe
With only two rounds remaining, this Friday night fixture between two teams still in top four contention should have a finals feel to it.
The Warriors and Panthers were among four top eight teams to surprisingly taste defeat in round 23 and losing to the Bulldogs and Knights respectively wasn't a good look at this late stage of the season.
The Warriors need one more win to be 100% assured of a finals invitation, while two wins might even be good enough for a top four finish (though it's unlikely).
Penrith are safely secure in the top eight and still in contention for a home final. But they will have to be a whole lot better than they have been recently to topple the Warriors and even better again in their final-round road clash with NRL titleholders Melbourne.
Match: Warriors v Panthers
Round 24 -
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: By their own high standards, halfbacks Shaun Johnson and Nathan Cleary didn't aim up for their respective sides last week. Both will be looking to make amends and their head to head clash is likely to have a big influence on the result.
For the Warriors to win: They have the worst home record (5-5) of any team in the top eight, though their last appearance at home a fortnight ago ended in a win over Newcastle. Coach Stephen Kearney will be banking on his senior players to lead, especially if it's tight down the stretch.
For the Panthers to win: Cleary understands he has to take control and direct his team more than he usually does in the absence of injured halves partner James Maloney. But he has to raise the bar even further until Maloney returns because the Panthers can't afford Cleary to take a single moment off if they are going to win.
Warriors Stat Attack: Johnson leads the NRL in field goals with four successful one-pointers - two more than Cleary. Winger David Fusitu'a has scored 18 tries to be second behind leader Valentine Holmes (19). Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is the leader in kick return metres (1141).
Panthers Stat Attack: Most of the numbers pointed to a Panthers win last week but the Knights finished ahead where it counts - on the scoreboard. The Panthers had the majority of possession, missed less tackles, made less errors and conceded less penalties.
And another thing: Two games into his NRL coaching career and Cameron Ciraldo is no doubt aware of the pressure he's under to get the Panthers performing like a worthy premiership contender. Penrith have already cemented a top-eight spot but their finals prospects look decidedly slim based on recent form.
New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers, Friday 6pm at Mt Smart Stadium
Fullback for Warriors is number 1 Roger Tuivasa-SheckFullback for Panthers is number 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Winger for Warriors is number 2 David Fusitu'aWinger for Panthers is number 2 Josh Mansour
Centre for Warriors is number 17 Peta HikuCentre for Panthers is number 3 Waqa Blake
Centre for Warriors is number 4 Solomone KataCentre for Panthers is number 4 Dean Whare
Winger for Warriors is number 5 Ken MaumaloWinger for Panthers is number 5 Christian Crichton
Five-Eighth for Warriors is number 6 Mason LinoFive-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Tyrone Peachey
Halfback for Warriors is number 7 Shaun JohnsonHalfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan Cleary
Prop for Warriors is number 8 James GavetProp for Panthers is number 8 Trent Merrin
Hooker for Warriors is number 9 Issac LukeHooker for Panthers is number 9 Wayde Egan
Prop for Warriors is number 10 Agnatius PaasiProp for Panthers is number 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard
2nd Row for Warriors is number 15 Tohu Harris2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Viliame Kikau
2nd Row for Warriors is number 12 Adam Blair2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Isaah Yeo
Lock for Warriors is number 13 Simon ManneringLock for Panthers is number 13 James Fisher-Harris
Interchange for Warriors is number 11 Isaiah Papali'iInterchange for Panthers is number 14 Tyrone May
Interchange for Warriors is number 14 Jazz TevagaInterchange for Panthers is number 15 Moses Leota
Interchange for Warriors is number 16 Bunty AfoaInterchange for Panthers is number 16 Corey Harawira-Naera
Interchange for Warriors is number 18 Leivaha PuluInterchange for Panthers is number 17 James Tamou
Warriors: Gerard Beale (hamstring injury) is out, with Peta Hiku to start in his place in the centres. Mason Lino comes into the halves for Blake Green (calf), who is hopeful of returning next week against Canberra. Tohu Harris has been brought into the run-on side in the final team list with Isaiah Papali'i dropping to the bench. Beale and Karl Lawton were the two players who were dropped 24 hours out from kick-off. Anthony Gelling and Chris Satae dropped out on game day with Leivaha Pulu taking the final bench spot.
Panthers: Tyrone May's relegation to the bench will see him act as back-up dummy-half to Wayde Egan while Trent Merrin's move to the starting side could signal more minutes for the middle forward – he has averaged under 40 for the past month. Adam Keighran and Liam Martin were the two players dropped from the squad 24 hours before game time. Sione Katoa and Kaide Ellis dropped out on game day.
Head-to-head: Played 40; Panthers 23 wins, Warriors 16 wins, 1 draw
Previous result: Panthers won 36-4 in round 17
Points per game: Warriors 18.9; Panthers 21.8
Points conceded per game: Warriors 18.9; Panthers 18.6
Televised: Live on Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: Last week's home loss was embarrasing for Penrith and I expect them to hit back hard. Great news with Viliame Kikau getting the all clear to travel to New Zealand and he'll have a big role to play against the huge Warriors pack. Both sides will be looking to make a statement ahead of the finals but I expect Penrith to prevail.
Tip: Panthers by 6.