Panthers Happy With Weekends

Penrith players have been granted their wish thanks to Stacey Jones' right boot and the growing maturity of his New Zealand Warriors teammates.

The minor premier Panthers will play the Warriors next Sunday for a place in the National Rugby League grand final after the Warriors won a gripping semi-final at Aussie Stadium on Saturday night, beating Canberra 17-16 thanks to a late Jones field goal.

Several Penrith players, including Scott Sattler and Rhys Wesser, had publicly stated their preference for facing the Warriors before last night's match.

Their confidence was fuelled by an impeccable record against the New Zealand side this season - three wins from three attempts - and the way the two sides matched-up.

But coach John Lang was more circumspect.

"They're probably stronger now than what they were (when we played them before)," Lang told League Correspondent.

"They had a few players out at that stage."

One of those players was bruising front rower Richard Villasanti, who missed both games through injury.

Since his return midway through the season the Warriors have lost only a handful of matches.

Second rower Ali Lauiti'iti also missed both clashes while strike centre Clinton Toopi was out injured for the round 12 match, which Penrith won 34-12 at Penrith Stadium.

But personnel isn't the only difference in this Warriors side.

For most of Saturday night's match they were pinned in their own half by Canberra's disciplined kicking game, forcing the Warriors big forwards to constantly work from their own quarter.

Their goal line defence, their biggest bugbear in the past, was also asked plenty of questions.

And they came up with the right answers on both fronts.

"I expected a tight contest," Lang said.

"That's the way it turned out. Canberra played extremely well. They have played that way all year.

"In the end the Warriors got the money. They probably deserved it."

The test now for the Warriors is to repeat that performance against a Penrith side which has enjoyed a week off.

Second rowers Tony Puletua (knee) and Joe Galuvao (calf) are both expected to play for the Panthers, with Lang conceding he would be "absolutely shocked" if they didn't.

"Penrith are a good football side," Warriors coach Daniel Anderson said.

"You don't become minor premiers by people giving in to you."

But captain Monty Betham believes Saturday night's match was the perfect preparation for a meeting with the Panthers.

"That's going to put us in good stead for this weekend's game," Betham said.

"Canberra played a perfect game for most of that match and really put us under the hammer.

"We can take a lot from that.

"The character and courage to come through was great."