The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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Penrith look to avoid six straight losses against the improving Warriors
Only a couple of weeks ago when the Panthers took on the Broncos, I stated in my preview that the Penrith side had to win that game in order to keep their season alive. Well, once again, I will state the exact same thing and now Anthony Griffin's men are inching closer and closer to the coveted title of being "mathematical possibilities" for September footy. Such a thought for a side which finished their 2016 season in very impressive fashion would surely be enough to inspire the Mountain Men to turn around their slump, right? Well, off their performance against the Broncos a fortnight ago it does not seem the case. The Panthers were woeful in the first half - it was the kind of stuff you would expect from Wooden Spoon contenders, not premiership favourites. What would have been particularly concerning for coach Griffin was the nature of the tries which they conceded in the opening 40 minutes. All barring one began in Brisbane's own half and the other one was scored off a bomb, which was met by little if any urgency from the Penrith players. The Warriors have rediscovered their defensive grit in the past couple of weeks and it is imperative that the Panthers do likewise. In addition, Penrith also lead the competition for errors, averaging 12.5 a game. Fortunately, they welcome back second rower James Fisher-Harris, pushing boom rookie Corey Harawira-Naera back to the bench.
The Warriors, on the other hand, have proven themselves in the past month to be genuine shots at a Top Eight finish this season. Granted they suffered losses at the hands of the Raiders and Storm, but Steven Kearney's men went very close in both games before putting together their best defensive performance in their Round 9 win over the Roosters. In some ways, Kearney would have preferred his side just continued to roll on after such an impressive victory with the Representative Round perhaps halting their momentum. Despite the Warriors' recent form, however, they will have to overcome a terrible record away from home, with their four wins this season all being at Mt Smart Stadium. Yet, perhaps an under confident Penrith outfit presents the perfect opportunity to turn this around.
In a Golden Point thriller, a Shaun Johnson try in the 89th minute saw the Warriors pip the Panthers 20-16 in Round 21 last year.
Who to watch: Look for some serious impact from bench forward Leilani Latu. Latu is a well-balanced football player, possessing both the size and skill needed to succeed at this level. Penrith fans will hope that the front rower took some confidence out of his starring role in Tonga's 26-24 win over Fiji last weekend. With two line breaks and two tries to his name, Latu made the most of his 48 minutes on the field and will be hoping to replicate his efforts for the Panthers on Saturday.
It may seem the obvious choice, but I can see the performance of Shaun Johnson almost single-handedly deciding this one. Penrith's defence has certainly not been at its best in recent weeks, and therefore the fleet-footed Johnson poses a serious risk to the home side's chances of victory if not contained. Johnson is yet to register a try or line break in his last four games, so one would think he is perhaps due to once again remind us of his attacking brilliance.
My tip: A very tough one. I expect to see an improved performance from Penrith. But I have not seen enough from them yet, particularly in defence, to suggest they can suddenly turn everything around. Conversely, with Kieran Foran steering the ship, the Warriors look a more well-rounded outfit. Warriors by 4.
1. Matt Moylan 2. Peta Hiku 3. Dean Whare 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Bryce Cartwright 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. James Fisher-Harris 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Leilani Latu 16. Tim Browne 17. Corey Harawira
1. Roger Tuivasa-sheck 2. David Fusitua 3. Blake Ayshford 4. Solomone Kata 22. Charnze Nicoll-klokstad 6. Kieran Foran 7. Shaun Johnson 8. James Gavet 9. Issac Luke 10. Jacob Lillyman 11. Bodene Thompson 12. Ryan Hoffman 15. Sam Lisone 14. Nathaniel Roache 16. Ligi Sao 17. Ben Matulino 21. Bunty Afoa