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The Storylines: The Warriors slipped out of the top four last weekend via a wildly controversial loss to the Sharks, but they can climb back in with a victory over the Origin-depleted Panthers.

The excruciating non-call on a Cronulla forward pass aside, there were significant positives to take from the Warriors’ 18-15 defeat after a string of big losses to fellow top-eight sides. They were under the pump from the 10-minute mark but managed to hang in against one of the NRL’s toughest outfits.

The Panthers, who are also sitting on a 10-5 record, come into this clash under a bit of pressure after a 32-6 hammering from the Roosters and a pancake-flat home loss to the lowly Sea Eagles either side of the rep weekend.

Speculation around coach Anthony Griffin’s future at the club is less than ideal with nine rounds to go in a mad scramble for top-eight positions.

The absence of NSW trio James Maloney, Nathan Cleary and Tyrone Peachey (as well as injured Blues prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard) hurts their chances, but they dodged a bullet when James Tamou was inexplicably given a reprieve after kneeing Dylan Walker in the head.

They also get dynamic edge pair Waqa Blake and Corey Harawira-Naera back from the casualty ward. But the attention will be on a halves pairing – the talented Tyrone May and relatively unknown Jarome Luai – with just 10 NRL appearances between them.

The Warriors have lost ultra-consistent forwards Bunty Afoa and Tohu Harris for at least a month, but Adam Blair returns from suspension and big wingers David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo – sorely missed against the Sharks – are both back. Ligi Sao gets his first chance in the top grade since Round 4.

They head to Panthers Stadium, the scene of their worst-ever collapse last season – bottling a 22-point halftime lead to go down 36-28.

With three teams just two points behind the Warriors and Panthers (as well as the Storm), this is a pivotal game for both teams, but arguably more so for the Warriors with a road trip to Brisbane and a home showdown against Melbourne in the following fortnight.

The History: Played 39 – Penrith won 22, Warriors won 16, draws 1.

The Stats

-The Warriors are 6-1 on the road this season; the Panthers are 6-1 at home.
-Penrith have won eight of their last 10 against the Warriors, including the last four at Panthers Stadium
-The last four encounters have been decided by 1-12 margins.
-The Panthers are conceding less than 11 points a game at home this season.
-The Warriors are conceding almost 20 points a game on the road.
-The Warriors have lost their last four against fellow top-eight teams.

3 Key Match-ups 

Shaun Johnson v Tyrone May: Johnson’s attacking opportunities have been limited in the Warriors’ past two outings but his kicking-game control in the second half against the Cowboys and Sharks was impressive. He also coolly took late field goal opportunities in both, but a few highlight-reel moments would be handy this Friday. Panthers five-eighth May makes his first NRL appearance since getting injured in last year’s finals but he is a talent and a half – as the Warriors know from his debut, when he scored a try at Mount Smart. May starred for Samoa recently and will be expected to take on the senior playmaker role with No.7 Jarome Luai in his first top-grade start.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Dallin Watene-Zelezniak: DWZ filled RTS’s New Zealand Test jumper in superb style a fortnight ago, easily the Kiwis’ best in a convincing loss in Denver. A few trademark brain explosions aside, he has also slotted in admirably as Penrith’s No.1 since Dylan Edwards broke down. The Panthers also need him to kick goals this week. Tuivasa-Sheck has been the Warriors’ best by a mile in the past two rounds and hasn’t produced anything less than a standout performance all year. Both ultra-dangerous with the ball in hand but Roger’s all-round reliability gives the Warriors a strong edge in the fullback department.

Simon Mannering v Isaah Yeo: In some ways, Yeo resembles a young Mannering: an underrated workhorse, super-consistent, runs great lines and a more-than-handy centre fill-in. He’s having another stellar year for Penrith and has been rewarded with the captaincy this weekend. Yeo will test Mannering’s left-edge defence in the wake of some subpar showings without the ball from the Warriors stalwart in recent times. Returning to the No.13 in Adam Blair’s absence last week, Mannering wasn’t overly impressive and overall he’s been a couple of notches below what we’ve come to expect. The Warriors need a big game from their most experienced campaigner.

Last Time They Met: The Panthers surged late to win 34-22 and move ahead of the Warriors on the premiership table in Round 19 last year. Nathan Cleary, a former Warriors ball-boy during father Ivan’s tenure as coach, starred with three tries and 22 points as opposite number Shaun Johnson limped off injured.

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Panthers $2.30, Warriors $1.57 (Line: Panthers +3.5)

The Panthers have covered 8 of 11 as a home underdog. The Warriors have covered 7 of 18 as a favourite. The under is 24-15 when the Panthers play at home. The under is 11-4 when the Panthers are an underdog at night. The under is 10-3 when the Warriors play on the road after scoring 15 or fewer. FULL TAB PREVIEW  | TAB PUNTERS LOUNGE – NRL

Tips – Warriors 12 & Under @ $2.80
Warriors/Warriors @ $2.00
Under 39.5 Points @ $1.87
David Fusitu’a To Score 2 Or More Tries @ $4.25
Shaun Johnson To Score a Try @ $3.00
Warriors by 7-12 @ $6.50


The Verdict: Don’t get too excited about the Panthers’ Origin absentees – this side is still brimming with game-breakers, and they are desperate for a win. The Warriors will be looking to produce the same levels of composure and patience that got them over the line against Parramatta and North Queensland in recent trips across the ditch, but as always laying a solid forward foundation for Johnson and Issac Luke is the key. Penrith boast a big, mobile pack and the Warriors must stop them from getting a roll on if they’re to bury the demons of last year’s horror trip to the foot of the Blue Mountains. Warriors by 7

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