In his last game before leaving the club, coach John Ackland has today named the same 17 used in the previous two finals matches as the Vodafone Junior Warriors seek to win the premiership for the third time in the last four seasons.
In fact, just 19 players have been used in the play-offs so far, the only changes coming after the week one 20-18 victory over South Sydney when wing Viliami Lolohea and hooker Siliva Havili returned to the line-up from New South Wales Cup duty with the Auckland Vulcans (Lafu Feagaiga and Stedman Lefau dropping out of the side to make way for the experienced campaigners).
The Vodafone Junior Warriors have amassed 112 points in the last two weeks as they first trounced the Sydney Roosters 58-6 and then recovered from a 16-34 second half deficit to storm to a 54-38 win over Canterbury-Bankstown to reach the grand final last Friday night.
The victory boosted their play-offs record to 11-4 in 15 matches since the NYC began in 2008. They fell one game short of the grand final under Tony Iro that year and remain the only club to have made the finals every year.
While the Vodafone Junior Warriors have been required to play each week of the finals after finishing sixth in the regular season, the Panthers have played just twice by dint of their second placing at the end of 26 rounds.
They came into the play-offs in impressive form having stitched together four straight wins, a run that started with a 32-14 victory over the Vodafone Junior Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium in the 23rd round.
In the first encounter between the two sides in May, the Vodafone Junior Warriors prevailed 38-32 at Centrebet Stadium.
The Panthers began the finals with a 17-7 record scoring 689 points but conceding just 460, comfortably the best in the competition. They started the play-offs with a 48-22 rout of the Roosters before reaching the grand final with a 36-20 triumph over minor premier Canberra last Saturday night.
While the Vodafone Junior Warriors are familiar with the NYC finals this is only the third time Penrith has reached the top eight and, in their previous visits, they had failed to win a play-off encounter, being eliminated in week one last year and losing two finals matches in 2008 including a 4-38 defeat by the Vodafone Junior Warriors.
Ackland and the players place no store on that, though.
The truth is the Panthers are a very good side, well coached and well organised. Well need to be better in everything weve been doing if were to be in the game.
Hookers Siliva Havili and Eko Malu are both survivors of the clubs second NYC title in 2011 with Havili, who has a fulltime NRL Vodafone Warriors contract next year, playing in the finals for the third straight year. Seven of his team-mates had play-offs experience last year Viliami Lolohea, Ngataua Hukatai, David Fusitua, Mason Lino, David Bhana, Albert Vete and James Taylor.
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS v PENRITH PANTHERS
ANZ Stadium, Homebush
3.45pm, Sunday, October 06
Referees: Chris Butler and Dave Munro
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS
13DAVID BHANA (c)
HEAD COACH: JOHN ACKLAND