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The Storylines: The Warriors’ byes are out of the way; now they have 11 weeks to make something of their campaign. Despite coming up with a disappointing 5-9 record so far, they are 10th at the top of a five-team logjam and only a win outside the Top 8 in a bottom-heavy 2019 NRL premiership.

A 24-20 away win over the Titans in Round 14 was vital but far from convincing. However, the Warriors showed far more character and backbone than they did a week earlier in capitulating against the Storm, coming from behind on the Gold Coast after throwing away an early double-digit lead.

Crucially, it was out-of-sorts spine staples Blake Green and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (who both make their 150th NRL appearances this week) that got the Warriors over the line.

The maligned pack also muscled up against a big Titans engine-room, though a couple of big outs will test the Warriors’ forwards resolve this week.

Snapping a run of four straight losses at Mt Smart Stadium is absolutely imperative – particularly as they do not play in Auckland again until August.

After piecing together an abysmal six-match losing streak – culminating in a 30-10 home loss to the Warriors – Penrith are now on a four-match winning run. They have grinded out tight, low-scoring wins over the Eels, Sea Eagles, Roosters and Rabbitohs, largely on the back of James Maloney’s return to form.

The Panthers will be without Nathan Cleary, but replacement Jarome Luai tore the Warriors apart with a 20-point haul at Penrith last season.

The visitors will be focusing on reproducing their recent defensive form: the Panthers have conceded just 50 points in their last four games, after leaking exactly 30 in each of their previous three outings.

A massive potential swing on the ladder for both sides, who are locked on 12 competition points.

Ins and Outs: The Warriors have lost Tohu Harris for six weeks, while Lachlan Burr is also out and Issac Luke has been axed.

Injury-prone Nathaniel Roache returns as bench utility, and out-of-favour duo Leivaha Pulu and Sam Lisone get an NRL chance off the bench. Jazz Tevaga has moved into the starting lock spot, with Adam Blair shifting out to the edge.

Karl Lawton celebrates his two-year contract extension with another start at hooker.

Nathan Cleary’s ankle injury sees the versatile, dynamic Jarome Luai come in it five-eighth. Hame Sele joins the Panthers’ bench, while Kiwi Test rep Dean Whare was named in the reserves and is a chance of returning in the centres, where back-row stalwart is currently filling in.


The History: Played 43 – Penrith won 24, Warriors won 18, draws 1

The Stats

-Penrith has won 10 of its last 14 games against the Warriors.
-The Warriors have won three of the last four between the clubs at Mt Smart.
-Just two of the last 11 encounters were decided by last than 10 points, with each of the last five featuring margins of 12-plus.
-The Warriors have won just two of seven games on New Zealand soil in 2019.
-The Panthers have won just one of five games outside Sydney this season.


3 Key Match-ups

Ken Maumalo v Brian To’o: Now that he’s scoring tries (a team-high 10 in 13 games this season), Maumalo is arguably the game’s form winger in 2019. He was unbelievable against the Titans, bagging a superb double and running for a season-best 278 metres – and over 100 post-contact metres. His battle with Panthers rookie To’o shapes as a belter. To’o is playing like teammate Josh Mansour was three years ago. The 20-year-old averages 165.5 metres in five matches so far and has a great turn of pace.

Blake Green v James Maloney: After several substandard outings since his return from injury, Green came up big at the back-end of the win over Gold Coast, setting up RTS’s go-ahead try and rectifying his kicking game – which had been awful. But the milestone man has his hands full matching Maloney’s influence. Struggling early in the season and thrown on the Origin scrapheap, Maloney has inspired the Panthers’ recent turnaround and was brilliant in game two on Sunday after getting an unlikely NSW recall. Maloney has been a perpetual thorn in his former club’s side, most notably with a dominant performance in last year’s qualifying final.

Jazz Tevaga v Liam Martin: Jazzy gets just his seventh NRL start – and only his second in his preferred lock spot. It’s a huge opportunity for the lionhearted utility, who is sure to bring a work-rate to the No.13 jumper Adam Blair could only dream of. Yet another rookie off the Penrith production line, Temora product Martin has been a tremendous find. Like Tevaga, Martin tackles his heart out but also has genuine speed and can bust the line.

Last Time They Met: The Warriors powered to a 30-10 win over an awful Penrith side at the foot of the mountains. The four-tries-to-one victory – in which rookie centre Patrick Herbert racked up 18 points and Kodi Nikorima scored a sizzling solo try in his second game for the club – was the Warriors’ biggest ever on the road against the Panthers.


The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Warriors $1.61, Panthers $2.30 (Line: Warriors -4)

The Warriors are 23-32 ATS as a favourite over the last five seasons. The Warriors are 15-22 ATS as a favourite at Mt Smart. The Warriors are 8-13 ATS at Mt Smart off a win. The Warriors are 7-13 ATS at Mt Smart off scoring 24 or more. Penrith are 9-16 ATS interstate including covering just 1 of 7. Penrith are 2-7 ATS in their last nine day games
Penrith have covered 10 of their last 16 off three straight wins. Small interstate underdogs cover at 60% over the last five seasons. The under is 13-7 when the Warriors are at Mt Smart off a win. The under hits at 60% when Penrith. The over has hit in six straight Warriors day games.


TAB’s Best Bet: Panthers +4 @ $1.90

TWL’s Tips: Warriors 1 to 12 @ $3.00
First Try Scorer – Patrick Herbert @ $14
Either Team by 6 or Less @ $2.77

The Verdict: The Panthers never feel like a good match-up for the Warriors: they’re unpredictable, Maloney has had their number for years, and their gritty recent displays should have the Warriors on high alert. This isn’t the team the Warriors pumped at Penrith last month. But if the Warriors can snap out of their Mt Smart malaise and produce the sort of spirited, committed effort on both sides of the ball that have characterised their performances on the other side of the Tasman this season, they should have too much class for a Panthers side that has not scored 20 points in their past eight games. It’s a big if – but we have to back the Warriors in what shapes as a game that could prove a platform for a run to the finals, or kill off their post-season prospects altogether. Warriors by 6

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