PENRITH PANTHERS V NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS – 8PM (NZT)/6PM (AEST) @ PANTHERS STADIUM
The Storylines: Just when you’re writing off their finals chances, the Warriors reel you back in with a sterling display. They were staring down the barrel of an 18-6 deficit against St George Illawarra last weekend in Brisbane, but produced easily their best half of the season to surge to a 26-18 upset.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo and Tohu Harris were sensational; Kodi Nikorima came up trumps on club debut; and Karl Lawton’s dazzling cameo headlined a wonderful contribution from the Warriors’ bench.
It was and ideal springboard to turn their campaign around – but it will all mean nothing if the 3-6 Warriors can’t secure back-to-back wins for the first time this season at Penrith.
The Panthers are under immense pressure with a 2-7 record which is every bit as bad as it sounds. Their representative stars are either woefully out of form or getting dropped. They have scored the least tries and boast the worst completion rate in the NRL. The club’s disastrous off-season has flowed into their on-field efforts.
But Penrith is also an unnerving match-up for the Warriors – particularly at home and especially because they are so desperate. The Warriors’ record against the Panthers over the past six seasons is horrible, with some of their most infamous losses – the club record 62-6 defeat in 2013, the record-breaking collapse in 2017 – coming at the foot of the mountains.
Please win. For me? Just one game. It’s all I ask. https://t.co/o3de7lQlri
— James Smith (@JamesSmith1001) May 15, 2019
Ins and Outs: The Warrriors named an unchanged 17 on Tuesday, leaving Issac Luke and Adam Blair on the outs. Nate Roache, Tohu Harris and Jazz Tevaga are under injury clouds but are expected to play.
Meanwhile, Ivan Cleary has swung the axe. Dylan Edwards returns at fullback, Josh Mansour has been axed for wing debutant Brian To’o, hooker Wayde Egan makes way for Sione Katoa, and Test forward Reagan Campbell-Gillard is the shock omission for rookie lock Liam Martin’s return from suspension.
The History: Played 42 – Panthers 24, Warriors won 17, draws 1
-The Panthers have won 10 of their last 13 against the Warriors.
-Penrith are on a seven-match winning streak against the Warriors away from Auckland, including five straight at Panthers Stadium.
-Just two of their last nine encounters were decided by less than 12 points.
-The Panthers have won just three of their last eight at home.
-The Warriors have won only three of their last 14 in NSW.
3 Key Match-ups
Kodi Nikorima v James Maloney: A controversial mid-season pick-up, Nikorima provided much of what the Warriors have been missing on club debut. His pace and sleight-of-hand produced two tries for Peta Hiku against the Dragons, while he seemed to revel in playing a secondary role in the halves. Maloney is in arguably the deepest form slump of his career, with his future at the Panthers coming into question and his NSW No.6 incumbency going down the drain – but he is a champion who has a habit of thwarting his former club.
"He’s fast. I’ve got to get a head start on him" – Two-try hero Hiku on new teammate Kodi Nikorima.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) May 12, 2019
Isaiah Papali’i v Viliame Kikau: The 20-year-old Papali’i topped the tackle count last week, worked hard in the ball-running department and came up with a superb line-break assist. He’s come in for some criticism in the TWL Facebook comments and we can’t comprehend why. But he faces a big test this Friday against Kikau, easily the Panthers’ most dangerous attacking weapon so far in a wretched 2019. Big Billy destroyed the Warriors at Panthers Stadium last season, ruining their right-side defence.
Karl Lawton v Jarome Luai: Stephen Kearney’s maligned use of the bench came up trumps last weekend – largely due to Lawton’s stunning 20-minute cameo. The utility made 90 metres and a line-break that led to the match-sealing try; the opportunity is there to cement a permanent spot in the 17. Panthers livewire Luai rinsed the Warriors with a 20-point haul (including two tries) last year in his maiden NRL start. Very interesting to see how Ivan Cleary utilises him this week.
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) May 14, 2019
Last Time They Met: After trailing 12-2 early, the Panthers surged to a convincing 27-12 Elimination Final victory at ANZ Stadium last September. Tyrone Peachey gave Solomone Kata an absolute bath, but Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s injury exit midway through the first half was the crucial factor.
Penrith have covered just 3 of their last 10 as a favourite. Favourites off five straight losses or more cover at just 45%. The Warriors are 10-5 in their last 15 as an underdog. The Warriors have covered 9 of 12 as an underdog in Australia. The Warriors have covered just 2 of 10 off a double digit win. The under is 22-13 in Penrith home games. The under is 11-6 when Penrith are at home off a loss. The under is 5-1 when Penrith are at home off scoring 12 or fewer. The under is 7-3 when Penrith are at home off conceding 30-plus. The under has hit in 6 of 9 after the Warriors scored 25-plus.
TAB’s Best Bet: Warriors +2.5 @ $1.90
The Verdict: The Warriors simply have to back up their best performance of the season with another showing of similar standard – a regression, a la their terrible loss to the Knights following a heroic Anzac Day effort, would send the team back to square one. The embattled Panthers are ripe for the picking form-wise, but they unmistakably a dangerous opponent. However, a stable line-up (belatedly) picked entirely on form is a huge positive for the Warriors and they did enough last weekend for us to trust they will get up again, despite heading into this encounter as a slight underdog. Warriors by 7