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Penrith Keen to Avoid the Spoon
Penrith might be second bottom in the National Rugby League (NRL), but coach John Lang says they will have as much motivation to win as the New Zealand Warriors when the two sides meet in Sydney on Sunday.
While the Warriors are looking to put their upset loss to Canberra behind them and consolidate their top four spot, the Panthers are desperate to avoid the wooden spoon for the second year in a row.
With the playoffs out of reach for the club, Lang said the agenda was simple ? pull away from the cellar by winning as many games as possible.
"We want to get off the bottom of the ladder first, and then get as high as we can," he said.
"We're not making any calls about how we'll do. But we're as keen to win as the sides at the top of the table. As a matter of fact, we might even be more desperate."
The home side have lock Scott Sattler back from suspension, while Lang confirmed that skipper Craig Gower would also take the field.
The halfback had been expected to be out for another five weeks after suffering a compound fracture of a finger two weeks ago. He will play with a protective brace.
Lang said the 36-16 victory over Melbourne last weekend ? which broke a five-match losing streak ? had lifted confidence among the Panthers.
"The guys had really put in during the previous two rounds against Newcastle and Brisbane and came away with nothing," he said.
"I was a bit concerned for them, to be honest, that they might drop their effort a bit, but they played really well and had a good win."
Coming close has been the story of Penrith's season, the first under Lang.
Their 64-6 flogging by Parramatta in the opening round has been the only blow-out recorded against them.
Even in a start that featured eight straight defeats, they still managed to stretch the top two clubs, the Bulldogs and Brisbane, both away from home.
"The worst part of our season has been failing to win games against teams that are of a similar level to ourselves," Lang said.
"We got beaten by Souths at home, by North Queensland at home, by Wests Tigers at home. They were probably our lows."
Lang said the Warriors' setback at Canberra Stadium hadn't shown up anything that he hadn't already known about the Auckland-based club.
He said the Raiders were always hard to beat at home and, while he would have backed the Warriors to come away with the two points, "you can't be 100 percent consistent for 26 weeks".
The match at Penrith Stadium will be the only meeting between the Panthers and the Warriors in this year's round robin.
The two sides last squared off at the same venue almost a year ago to the day, with the Warriors winning 48-32 on their way to their first appearance in the playoffs.
Not surprisingly, Lang identified shutting down the Warriors' giant forwards as being vital to success. Not only were they big, but they had the ball skills as well.
"They would probably be the most skilful pack in the competition," Lang said.
"That, allied to their quick men, has probably been the key to their season."