Panthers v Warriors preview

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Penrith Panthers v Warriors Friday 6:00pm at BlueBet Stadium, Penrith

The punters are not giving the Warriors a chance this week, with the men from across the ditch rated rank outsiders against the defending premiers. 

It is not hard to understand why as key troops return and the Panthers look to celebrate their minor premiership win in style in front of a packed BlueBet Stadium.

The understrength Panthers bounced back from a 16-0 loss to Melbourne in ideal fashion last week, outlasting South Sydney 26-22 in a Thursday night thriller.

There were concerns with the way the Rabbitohs pulled the defending premier's edge defence apart but outside of that, it was another impressive statement from Penrith in its quest to go back-to-back.

Apisai Koroisau (two try assists), Isaah Yeo and Liam Martin were all pivotal to that upset win yet all three will once again suit up despite taking on considerable workloads in the post-Origin period.

While a fixture with the underperforming Warriors would on the surface look like the best bet to rest their stars, it looks like the Panthers view next week's clash with the Cowboys as the better option given the amount of travel involved. 

In a big boost ahead of this week's game with the Warriors, five-eighth Jarome Luai has been named to make an early return from a knee injury. 

James Fisher-Harris also is back from a suspension while Jaeman Salmon has been given a well-earned rest, seeing winger Charlie Staines retain his spot on the bench. 

As for the Warriors, they were dominated 48-4 by the Cowboys in a loss that still leaves them at risk of taking home the wooden spoon, although that would require both the Titans and Tigers to win their remaining games.

Nonetheless, it was a particularly disappointing result for Warriors fans given only the week prior the team appeared to have turned a corner with a dominant win over the Bulldogs.

Instead, now the Warriors prepare for the hardest road trip in the competition, already low on confidence and lacking in the defensive mettle that saw the Rabbitohs come close to victory last week.

In team news, Chanel Harris-Tavita is back from a knee injury and replaces Daejarn Asi at five-eighth while Josh Curran shifts into the second row in place of Jack Murchie. 

Dunamis Lui is joined by Ben Murdoch-Masila on the bench, who is set to play his first game since Round 14, while Euan Aitken will sit out Friday's match due to personal reasons.

Last meeting: Round 15 2022 - Warriors 6 Panthers 40

Who to watch: While it may be a surprise for Jarome Luai to return this soon, it actually makes plenty of sense if he is fit. Next week's game with the Cowboys will be a far greater challenge for Luai, meaning this Thursday's match-up gives him a much better chance to ease himself back from injury. Sean O'Sullivan proved last week he has the long-range kicking game and temperament to control a contest, so he will be able to dictate terms early. It will then be on Luai to inject himself into the attack and the crafty playmaker should have plenty of chances against a passive Warriors defence. 

With James Fisher-Harris back in Penrith's line-up, the Warriors desperately need someone to match his intensity and ferocity up front. Addin Fonua-Blake shapes as the Warriors' best chance of disrupting that forward momentum. The 26-year-old has only failed to top 100 running metres three times from 19 games this season, even still getting to 106 last week in a well-beaten team. The Rabbitohs had success shifting the ball early against Penrith last week but the Warriors don't have the same fluency and cohesion in attack. They need to go into Friday's game with a simple game plan that starts with making a statement up front and Fonua-Blake is the man to make it.

The favourite: With a few key additions, the Panthers are overwhelming favourites at $1.01.

My tip: The Warriors seem to have closed up shop for 2022 and while they may not be as clinical without Nathan Cleary, the Panthers should still cruise to a comfortable win at home to celebrate winning another minor premiership. Panthers by 26.

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Taylan May 3. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Sean O'Sullivan 8. Moses Leota 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 20. Chris Smith 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Mitch Kenny 15. Matt Eisenhuth 16. Spencer Leniu 19. J'maine Hopgood 18. Sunia Turuva

1. Reece Walsh 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Viliami Vailea 18. Adam Pompey 5. Edward Kosi 6. Chanel Harris-Tavita 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 14. Freddy Lussick 10. Tohu Harris 16. Eliesa Katoa 12. Josh Curran 15. Dunamis Lui 13. Bunty Afoa 17. Tom Ale 21. Ben Murdoch-Masila 23. Taniela Otukolo 24. Jackson Frei

Referees: Chris Butler; Sideline Officials: Belinda Sharpe, Chris Sutton; Video Referees: Ashley Klein;

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