If you only watch one match in round 21 you could do worse than making it the Panthers vs. Warriors match-up, these two sides square off at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday afternoon in what looms as the match of the round. The result will be critical for the finals hopes of both sides heading into the final 6 matches of the season.

LAST TIME OUT

The Warriors traveled to Canberra to take on a Raiders side that had their sights on the top 4. The Warriors were strong early in jumping out to an early lead before the green machine kicked into gear and looked to have the match won leading 22 – 4 with only 10 minutes remaining. The Warriors staged an amazing fight back with three late ties and Isaac Luke sent the match to gold point with a side line conversion. The Raiders scored on the first set in golden point however to take the victory over the Warriors at GIO stadium.

The Penrith Panthers traveled to Suncorp Stadium and pulled off the upset of the round – and possibly their best win of the year – in completely dominating the Brisbane Broncos on their home turf. The Panthers defense was stoic all night and their attack flourished on the back of a no mistakes style of football. It appears the Panthers have hit their straps at the right time of year and will be looking to further cement their place in the top 8 with another upset road win on Saturday afternoon.

KEY BATTLE

The #1, #6, and #7: Both the Panthers and the Warriors have explosive forwards and damaging backs, matching up well against each other across the park. The fullbacks and halves will be the deciding factor in the end result of this match on Saturday afternoon. The team that has the more effective kicking game and has the ability to take the opportunities presented to them can find themselves on the right side of the scoreboard come fulltime.

Shaun Johnson, Thomas Leuluai and newly appointed fullback Tiumoala Lolohea will provide possibly the Warriors best attacking spine available (with the injury to Roger Tuivasa Sheck). The Panthers are equally talented in these positions with NSW fullback Matt Moylan joined by Bryce Cartwright and young halfback sensation Nathan Cleary. The talent on display in this match is nothing short of first rate and should provide for an exciting, attacking, brand of football.

PREDICTION

Both of these sides have a track record of close games in 2016 with 13 of the Panthers 17 matches this season decided by 7 points or less. The Warriors also have a taste for the close games with recent results that include a 2 point win over the Roosters, a 1 point less to the Sharks and the last two matches going into golden point against the Sea Eagles and Raiders. Given the good recent form both sides have shown and their ability to grind out a close game, expect this match to go down to the wire yet again.

The Panthers have a great recent record against the Warriors having won the earlier matchup in 2016 between the two sides by 30 – 18 and holding a 6 – 1 record over the last 7 matches between the two clubs. Even though the Warriors have lost 3 of their last 4 matches they have all came against in form sides with two matches going to golden point. The Panthers also have a strong recent form line and given what is at stake in this match it is almost too close to call. The side that finds themselves in front early could be hard to catch as both teams have built an ability to play well when leading.

The Warriors will be slightly more desperate than the Panthers on Saturday and will get home in another thriller on Saturday afternoon football winning this one by 2 points over a robust Penrith Panthers side.

SQUADS

WARRIORS v PANTHERS

3pm Saturday at Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

Warriors: 1 Tuimoala Lolohea 2 Ken Maumalo 3 David Fusitua 4 Solomone Kata 5 Manu Vatuvei 6 Thomas Leuluai 7 Shaun Johnson 8 Jacob Lillyman 9 Issac Luke 10 Ben Matulino 11 Bunty Afoa 12 Ryan Hoffman 13 Simon Mannering. Interchange: 14 Jazz Tevaga 15 Sam Lisone 16 James Gavet 17 Blake Ayshford

Panthers: 1 Matt Moylan 2 Josh Mansour 3 Waqa Blake 4 Tyrone Peachey 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6 Bryce Cartwright 7 Nathan Cleary 8 Leilani Latu 9 Peter Wallace 10 Suaia Matagi 11 Isaah Yeo 12 James Fisher-Harris 13 Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14 Moses Leota 15 Sitaleki Akauola 16 Chris Grevsmuhl 17 Zak Hardaker 20 Andy Saunders 23 Viliame Kikau