Round 19: Warriors v Panthers preview - 2017 Round 19
Seasons go on the line as Warriors and Panthers look to keep finals hopes alive.
The Warriors will come into Friday night's clash refreshed after a bye and will be keen to atone for their last-start loss to Manly in Perth. Stephen Kearney's men surrendered an early 16-0 lead to fall 26-22 and consequently give up what would have been a crucial two points. The Warriors find themselves sitting on 18 competition points and could find themselves six points adrift of eighth position if they lose on Friday night and the Dragons get up against the Raiders. If that is not enough motivation, the Warriors will honour 226-game veteran Manu Vatuvei, who was released from his contract earlier this week to link with Salford Red Devils effective immediately. The home side are also boosted by the return of Kiwi internationals Solomone Kata and Isaac Luke, with Luke's return particularly important seeing that backup hooker Nathaniel Roache will sit out Friday night's game with a hamstring complaint.
The Panthers will also be determined to claim the two points on Friday night as they too come into Round 19 on 18 points. Luckily, Anthony Griffin's men were able to hold on for an important 16-8 win last week against Manly. The victory would have been particularly pleasing for Griffin as his side were able to hold the equal-best attacking team in the competition to just eight points. In saying this, the Panthers enjoyed a whopping 14 penalties, yet they were only able to come up with two tries themselves. However, tries should come a bit easier this week against the Warriors, who are the fourth worst defensive side in the competition. Griffin has named largely the same side that took down Manly last week, with the only change coming in the form of James Fisher-Harris who has been named to make his return from injury off the bench. In saying this, skipper Matt Moylan is in doubt with a hamstring injury, with youngster Tyrone May in line for his NRL debut if Moylan cannot prove his fitness.
The Warriors will be looking for revenge on Friday night after capitulating in their previous game against Penrith. The New Zealand side led 28-6 at the break in the Round 10 clash before the Panthers raced home to score 30-unanswered points on the way to a 36-28 win.
Who to watch: Shaun Johnson proved the difference in these sides' last meeting in New Zealand. The halfback sliced through the Penrith defence in the 89th minute to deliver his side a thrilling 20-16 Golden Point victory. Johnson also had one try-assist, line break and five tackle busts on that night. In what shapes as another tight encounter, Johnson's brilliance could be just what the Warriors need to get over the line.
Josh Mansour's performance in his last outing against the Warriors was just scary. The powerhouse winger ran for 266 metres, scored two tries, made two line breaks and busted 15 tackles - and that was all in a losing effort. Mansour is not expected to reach those heights just yet, seeing that he only returned from an ACL tear only weeks ago. Yet, his power could prove a serious threat if he gets going.
My tip: We know that both of these sides can turn it on in attack. Therefore, whoever comes out with the better defensive attitude will come out on top. On that basis, it is Penrith by 4. However, if Moylan is ruled out, the Panthers may struggle.