Kearney confident Mason Lino can handle the big occasion
Stephen Kearney has backed inexperienced half Mason Lino to help his stuttering Warriors lock in their first finals since 2011 when Penrith visit Auckland on Friday night.
The 24-year-old Samoan will become the first change to the Warriors' starting 13 in three matches when he deputises for Blake Green at Mt Smart Stadium.
Green hobbled off with a calf strain in Sunday's 27-26 loss to the Bulldogs.
It will be Lino's seventh NRL game this season and the 16th of his career but only the second time he had started at five-eighth.
The Warriors were edged 12-6 by the visiting Storm the last time Lino played outside Shaun Johnson in round 19 but Kearney hasn't hesitated in handing the Intrust Super Premiership halfback the No.6 jersey with Green missing just his second match of the season.
"He made a wonderful contribution for us earlier on in the season when we had Shaun out obviously so he's very capable of doing the job," Kearney said of Lino on Radio Sport.
Lino's contribution is expected to be another fleeting one with Green "progressing well" and likely to return for the final regular-season match against Canberra.
It will be important nonetheless with the eighth-placed Warriors out to finally shake the Wests Tigers off their tail and keep their hopes of hosting a home final alive if they can leapfrog Penrith into sixth.
The return of rangy back-rower Tohu Harris to an extended bench is a boost for the Warriors, who were thrashed 36-4 by a Panthers side missing its State of Origin players in round 17.
Harris is set to replace Leivaha Pulu on the bench after being sidelined since round 16 with meniscus tears in both knees. He missed six games after needing minor surgery to repair a tear in his left knee after the June 29 match against Cronulla before succumbing to the same complaint in his right knee in a training session as he was preparing to make his comeback in round 21.
"He's pulled up pretty good," Kearney said of Harris.
"The injury wasn't quite as bad as the first knee injury he had early on so he's had two really impressive weeks with his preparation. Barring no mishaps at training tomorrow or on Thursday, he'll be good to take his place in the team."
Kearney hasn't ruled out starting Harris.
"We haven't quite made our mind up yet but whether he starts or not. He hasn't had a run in terms of game time for six or seven weeks. Isaiah [Papali'i] has done a wonderful job thus far and Adam [Blair] has been playing really well for us on the edge."
Kearney called the Warriors out for taking short-cuts against the Bulldogs and he knows a repeat would see the Panthers make them pay.
"In this competition, it's that difficult, you just take your eye off the ball momentarily and you can get your pants pulled down or a kick in the backside and that's what happened to us the other day," Kearney said after the Warriors were left heartbroken by a Lachlan Lewis field goal.
"For us to move forward, we've got to make sure we don't make those little mistakes again."