Only one game of football on Friday night this week as Penrith host the Warriors. These two sides sit in fourth and fifth position on the ladder and in pursuit of a coveted top four position, this shapes to be a valuable two points for the winner.
Since a dominant win against the Dragons in Round 12, the Panthers have looked a shade of their former selves. They put in a lacklustre showing against Manly last weekend and will want to make amends in front of a vocal home crowd on Friday. Their chances aren't helped this week by the omission of James Maloney and Nathan Cleary who travel to Suncorp Stadium next Wednesday to attempt an Origin series whitewash.
The Warriors make the trip across the Tasman having also tasted defeat last round. They were beaten by the Sharks in controversial circumstances and must still be seething. In good news for the Warriors, playing outside of New Zealand hasn't proven to be the same struggle of seasons past. Of their eight games in Australia so far this year, they've only dropped three and with that reversal in form, it's no wonder they find themselves in finals contention this deep into the season.
2017 - Round 10 - Panthers 36 def. Warriors 28 at Panthers Stadium
2017 - Round 19 - Panthers 34 def. Warriors 22 at Mt Smart Stadium
2016 - Round 21 - Warriors 20 def. Panthers 16 at Mt Smart Stadium
2016 - Round 10 - Panthers 30 def. Warriors 18 at AMI Stadium
2015 - Round 10 - Panthers 24 def. Warriors 10 at Panthers Stadium
In a season where many sides have already played each other twice, these two are just meeting for the first time. It's the Panthers who have the recent ascendency and their home record paints an even more worrying proposition for the Warriors. So far this season, Penrith have dropped just a single game at home - an impressive feat given that record has included wins against fellow heavyweights the Dragons and Bunnies.
Isaah Yeo (c)
The facts that matter
It's a big week for Panthers coach Anthony Griffin. In most circles, having your side sitting in the top four beyond the midpoint of the season would be enough to guarantee any coach safety but not out west. News broke this week that the Panthers coaching staff had conducted a 'mid-season review' (read into that what you will) over the representative round. While Panther's supremo Phil Gould had hosed down any speculation that Griffin could be on the nose, in rugby league, the boss' endorsement is usually the kiss of death...
If Griffin can't manage a win here, he may have good reason to be a little more nervous.
For a side that remains relatively unaffected over origin period, the Warriors have fallen foul of injuries this week. They lose key big men Tohu Harris and Bunty Afoa with both looking at an extended spell on the sideline. Harris has been immense this season since moving from Melbourne, but the Warriors won't lose too much in his replacement. Former captain Simon Mannering returns to the run on side in place of Harris and certainly won't weaken their claims. Despite an injury-interrupted season, Mannering has impressed, running for an average of 91 metres a game and tackling at an impressive 94% efficiency. Running off Shaun Johnson's left hip, don't be surprised if the second-rower pops up for a meat pie in this one.
If this game wasn't during origin period, you'd expect the Panthers to dispatch of the Warriors fairly easily. Unfortunately for Penrith, they're down on troops and out of form. With Shaun Johnson due for a big performance, the Panthers look to have their work cut out for them in this one. It's time for one of these sides to stake their top four claims and for ours, it's the Warriors who will get the job done. Warriors by 12.
It's fourth vs fifth and only one side can stake their claim for the top four. Can the Warriors make a move up the ladder with a win over the Panthers? Let us know in the poll below.
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