The Warriors and Penrith Panthers will go head to head on Friday at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland. The two teams are sitting next to each other on the NRL ladder with the Warriors at 10 and the Panthers at 9. Both teams are currently tied at 18 competition points and are both two wins away from entering the all desired ‘top eight’ on the 2017 NRL ladder. This game has the potential to make or break either team’s dreams of having a successful season.

LAST TIME OUT

The Warriors had a much needed rest last week after they battled it out against the Manly Sea Eagles in round 17. In usual Warriors style – the team dominated in the first 20 minutes of the game and managed to pull together 16 points while Manly was unable to score any. Unfortunately for the Warriors, the momentum of the game changed dramatically as Manly steam rolled the distraught team and came back from a 16-0 deficit to take the win 26-22. Normally this would have been an extremely disappointing and all too familiar loss for Warriors fans but instead I believe the Warriors played as hard as they could but were simply beaten by a better team, and you can’t get mad at that.

The Panthers also played Manly in their last match in round 18 but had a better result than the Warriors did. Although the Panthers came out on top with a 16-18 win, it wasn’t very convincing. The Panthers received 14 penalties to Manly’s minuscule 4 which made a huge difference but the defining factor was arguably the Panthers forward pack who performed with style and passion as they made an incredible amount of metres between them. The win gave Penrith a much needed boost of confidence which could play a key role in Friday’s match against the Warriors.

KEY BATTLE

The key battle for Fridays match is going to be whether the Panthers incredibly strong defence is enough to hold out the amount of ball the Warriors will have due to their excellent completion rate. The Warriors have the best completion rate in the NRL with an average of 79.39 per cent throughout the past 16 games. If the Warriors manage to score off the amount of possession they will have then it will be an easy game. The battle is whether the Panthers (who arguably have the strongest defence in the competition) can hold them out and stop points from being scored. The Panthers defence proved too strong for Manly who are believed to have the best attack in the competition so this will be an interesting battle to watch.

PREDICTION

Considering this game will be played at the Warriors home ground and with the added motivation to give Manu Vatuvei a memorable farewell, I think it is safe to say the Warriors will be able to take the win and do it in convincing fashion.

Warriors by 6

New Zealand Warriors vs Penrith Panthers at Mount Smart Stadium Auckland, 8.00pm (NZT) Friday

Squads

Warriors:

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 1
David Fusitua2
Blake Ayshford3
Solomone Kata4
Ken Maumalo21
Kieran Foran6
Shaun Johnson7
Jacob Lillyman8
Issac Luke9
Ben Matulino10
Bodene Thompson11
Bunty Afoa12
Simon Mannering13
INTERCHANGE
Ata Hingano14
Sam Lisone15
James Gavet16
Ligi Sao17

Panthers:

1Dylan Edwards
2Josh Mansour
3Tyrone Peachey
4Waqa Blake
5Dallin Watene Zelezniak
6Matt Moylan (c)
7Nathan Cleary
8James Tamou
9Mitch Rein
10Reagan Campbell-Gillard
11Corey Harawira-Naera
12Isaah Yeo
13Trent Merrin
INTERCHANGE
14Sione Katoa
15Leilani Latu
16Tim Browne
17James Fisher-Harris