Panthers v Warriors preview

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Penrith Panthers v Warriors Friday 7:50pm at Panthers Stadium

Evenly matched combatants look to rebound into the top four

Slipping from competition leaders with a pair of deflating losses to sit four points behind the top of the table Dragons, the Panthers will be hoping to regain confidence at home without a host of representative stars. Impacted by the most Origin players selected from their ranks since 2012, the unavailability of the club's first choice halves pairing and dynamic impact utility Tyrone Peachey, coupled with the injury absence of Reagan Campbell-Gillard will see their depth tested, but as has been the case throughout 2018 the production line of talent on display at Penrith has consistently founds ways to triumph over adversity. Elevating former NYC premiership winning halves Jarome Luai and Tyrone May to direct proceedings against the unpredictable Warriors, Fijian centre Waqa Blake will make his return after missing the past three months, while in an historic moment for underrated second rower Isaah Yeo, the St. John's Dubbo junior will captain the Panthers for the first time. Holding a dominant record over New Zealand with eight wins from the past ten meetings, coach Anthony Griffin will be astutely aware of the stakes at play with victory potentially elevating the side into third position while defeat could realistically continue their decline to sixth on the ladder.

Going down in agonising circumstances against Cronulla after an unchecked forward pass resulted in a last-gasp try to the Sharks, the Warriors will have their sights set on remaining consistent until the final whistle on Friday night. Establishing a 12-0 lead inside ten minutes and seemingly wrapping up the contest courtesy of a Shaun Johnson field goal with time running out, coach Stephen Kearney will be stressing the importance of capitalising upon the Origin-affected Panthers to ensure any advantages gained throughout the course of 80 minutes are driven home. Recording their last victory at the foot of the mountains back in 2012, mixed news on the selection front sees internationals Ken Maumalo, David Fusitua and Adam Blair included in the starting side, while Tohu Harris and Bunty Afoa are set for stints on the sideline as the Warriors look to lead into Origin 3 inside the top four for the first time since 2002. With both clubs renown for developing junior talent, Friday's clash will serve as a significant milestone in marking five years since the two sides faced off in the Holden Cup grand final. With more than half of the 34 opposing players progressing into the NRL for a host of clubs, the likes of David Fusitua and Solomone Kata will be hopeful of making amends for the disappointment of losing to emerging Penrith talents such as Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Isaah Yeo.

Last meeting: Round 19 2017 - Warriors 22 Panthers 34

Who to watch: Coming into the starting side as a direct replacement for NSW halfback Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai will be hoping to replicate the success of Penrith's 2015 NYC premiership triumph with his partnership alongside Tyrone May in the halves. Taking his place alongside a host of current first graders including James Fisher-Harris, Corey Harawira-Naera and Moses Leota in the Panthers' second Under 20s title, the 22-year-old Samoan representative was originally in line to debut when Cleary was ruled out for two months, only to be made to wait until Round 10 for his maiden NRL appearance off the bench. Given the success Penrith have enjoyed with a production line of junior talent stepping up when handed their opportunities, the 22-year-old should cause plenty of headaches on Friday night when given a chance to challenge the Warriors' defensive line.

Returning to New Zealand having found success on the Gold Coast during a three-year stint with the Titans, front rower Agnatius Paasi has been among the major success stories to emerge from the Warriors rejuvenation. Making a sole appearance with the Auckland-based outfit in 2014 before making the fortuitous gamble to further his career in Australia, the 26-year-old Tongan enforcer has been a permanent fixture in the starting pack since breaking into the side during the early rounds of the season. Consistent in yardage and impacting opponents with great force, the decision to venture back across the Tasman has proven to be a masterstroke for Paasi and fellow prop James Gavet, having each featured in the Warriors lower grades at the start of the decade only to return as accomplished players with the capacity of leading the club to its first finals appearance since 2011.

The favourite: Unlucky in defeat against Cronulla, the Warriors are favoured to defy their poor record at the foot of the mountains to capitalise upon the Origin-affected Panthers.

My tip: On track to record a long-awaited return to September, the Warriors should account for their weakened opponents if they have serious ambitions of vying for a tilt at the premiership. Warriors by 6.

1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2. Christian Crichton 3. Waqa Blake 4. Dean Whare 5. Tyrone Phillips 6. Tyrone May 7. Jarome Luai 8. Trent Merrin 9. Sione Katoa 10. James Tamou 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris 14. Wayde Egan 15. Corey Harawera Naera 16. Jack Hetherington 17. Moses Leota

1. Roger Tuivasa-sheck 2. David Fusitua 3. Peta Hiku 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Blake Green 7. Shaun Johnson 8. James Gavet 9. Issac Luke 10. Agnatius Paasi 11. Isaiah Papalii 12. Simon Mannering 13. Adam Blair 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Chris Satae 16. Ligi Sao 17. Gerard Beale

Referees: Ben Cummins, Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel, Rickey McFarlane; Video Referees: Luke Patten, Jared Maxwell;

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