The second game in the shortened round for 2018 has the Panthers taking on the Warriors from Panthers Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
It was only a few weeks ago that Penrith were aiming to go top of the table, but they’re coming off losses against the Sea Eagles and the Roosters, and this game isn’t going to be any easier. They will be looking to steal the win to stay in the top four.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
The Warriors have turned it around this year and shown a lot more consistency then we are used to from them. They are sitting on 22 points and just below the Panthers on points differential, and will look to take advantage of a weakened Panthers team to take their spot in fourth place.
Penrith are missing three of their big guns with Nathan Cleary, James Maloney and Tyrone Peachey in NSW camp. They are replaced by Jarome Luai, Tyrone May and Waqa Blake respectively. Waqa Blake is the biggest inclusion after returning from an ankle injury he picked up in round 5, but there’s no sugar-coating the fact they are without three key players for a very important game. Villame Kikau needs to get through training on Thursday to prove his fitness after taking a knock to the knee last week.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
The Warriors love this time of year as they are unaffected by Origin, however they aren’t quite at full strength. Tohu Harris is out with a MCL injury and Bunty Afoa is out with an elbow injury. Adam Blair returns from suspension to start at lock, with Simon Mannering moving from the bench to start in the back row. The spine has had some injury dramas this season but all four have been back for a little while now and are starting to click into gear.
Penrith have won 8 of the last 10 meetings between the sides, and while they sit just above the Warriors on the ladder, they are coming off two tough losses. This challenge is going to be their biggest since they belted the Dragons back in May but they will have to do it without their three Origin stars and Regan Campbell-Gillard. This is the chance that Penrith to test their depth and a chance for senior players like DWZ, Merrin, Fisher-Harris, Tamou and Yeo to stand up and make a statement to the rest of the competition.
The Warriors will be fired up after last week, where they lost due to a last-minute try to the Sharks that looked like it came from a forward pass. However they have to put last week behind them and take advantage of this situation, because they would much rather be facing the Panthers now rather than when they are at full strength. David Fusitu’a is back on the wing and will be looking for a try or two to extend his lead as top try scorer.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak vs Roger Tuivasa-Sheck shapes to be the biggest positional matchup. RTS didn’t head over to Denver for the test match against England with DWZ filling in for him and doing a pretty good job. There were some question marks over how Tuivasa-Sheck would handle the captaincy this season but he has done a very well leading the team around. He had somewhat of a quiet season last year but his footwork is as blistering as ever and he is deceivingly strong after bulking up considerably since his days at the Roosters. He leads one of the most dangerous spines in the competition and he and Shaun Johnson will be top two on the Panthers tip sheet. Their ability to create something from nothing means they have the ability to beat any side on any given day.
The biggest improvement in the Warriors apart from the fact they now play the full 80 minutes is that they now travel well, only losing one away game this season, where they lost 50-10 to the Storm in round 8. However, they have only won 6/17 at Panthers Stadium.
Penrith Panthers: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Waqa Blake, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 Tyrone May, 7 Jarome Luai, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Sione Katoa, 10 James Tamou, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Isaah Yeo (c), 13 James Fisher-Harris Interchange: 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Corey Harawira-Naera, 16 Jack Hetherington, 17 Moses Leota
New Zealand Warriors: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2 David Fusitu’a, 3 Peta Hiku, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Blake Green, 7 Shaun Johnson, 8 James Gavet, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Agnatius Paasi, 11 Isaiah Papali’i, 12 Simon Mannering, 13 Adam Blair Interchange: 14 Jazz Tevaga, 15 Tevita Satae, 16 Ligi Sao, 17 Gerard Beale
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 6th July
Venue: Panthers Stadium, Penrith
Kick-off: 7:55pm AEST
WHO WILL WIN?