The Panthers were always guaranteed a home final in week one but they would have watched on with interest as Brisbane piled on the points against Manly and drew level on a +56 differential.
In the end the Panthers hung on to fifth on percentage and will host the Warriors, a team they shared the honours with in 2018.
In round 17 the Panthers hammered the Warriors 36-4, at which point plenty of good judges wanted to write off the Warriors’ premiership aspirations.
In round 24 the Warriors returned the favour with a 36-16 win at Mt Smart, giving Stephen Kearney’s men plenty of momentum coming into this do-or-die clash.
Key match-up: Sensational battles all over the paddock, particularly Shaun Johnson and Nathan Cleary, but the earth will shake when Adam Blair and James Fisher-Harris come together. Neither will take a backward step and they’ll look to rattle each other any chance they get. Watch for Paasi and Campbell-Gillard to lock horns as well as the forward battle heats up.
For the Panthers to win: Channel the grit that got them home in Melbourne last Friday in the face of some tough calls and a lopsided penalty count. They could have turned it up but instead the Panthers defended for their lives and came away with a morale-boosting win at just the right time. If they can play with the same passion this week they’ll be tough for the Warriors to break down.
Panthers v Warriors - Elimination Final
For the Warriors to win: Forget about the fact they haven’t played a final since 2011. This is a team that has copped plenty of criticism for under-achieving with a quality roster in the past six years but they’ve made it to September now and they have good reason to be confident. They boast one of the game’s premier playmakers in Shaun Johnson and the NRL’s top tryscorer David Fusitu'a and they can turn on a try from anywhere.
Panthers Stat Attack: It doesn't make for pretty reading, but James Maloney top the NRL with 149 missed tackles during the home and away season. He also missed four matches, resulting in an average of more than seven per game. Ben Hunt (109) and Luke Brooks (102) were the only other players to reach triple figures in this category.
Warriors stat attack: The back three enjoyed a great season when it comes to attacking play. Winger David Fusitu'a topped the try scorer's list with 22 while fullback Roger Tuivasa-Scheck (5th) and winger Ken Maumalo (10th) both cracked the top 10 for run metres.
And another thing: Penrith back-rower Isaah Yeo is the only player on either side to have played every match this season. Across the NRL, only 46 players took part in all 24 matches played by their team.
Penrith Panthers v New Zealand Warriors, Saturday 5.30pm at ANZ Stadium
Panthers: The Panthers will run out as named on Tuesday. Corey Harawira-Naera (concussion) returns on the bench in place of Jack Hetherington, who was cut an hour before kick-off with Tyrone Phillips.
Warriors: The Warriors are also 1-17, with Blake Green (calf) returning at five-eighth in place of Mason Lino. James Gavet is back at prop, pushing Bunty Afoa to the bench and Leivaha Pulu to the reserves, while Gerard Beale replaces Chris Satae on the bench. Leivaha Pulu and Karl Lawton were the last players omitted an hour prior to kick-off.
Head-to-head in NRL era: Played 37; Panthers 21 wins, Warriors 15 wins
Previous result: Warriors won 36-16 in round 24 at Mt Smart Stadium
Points per game (regular season): Panthers 21.5 (8th); Warriors 19.7 (10th)
Points conceded per game (regular season): Panthers 19.2 (6th); Warriors 18.6 (5th)
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Craig Wing's prediction: The Panthers will get up for this game but I'm going to tip the Warriors because they're on a high, their forwards are rolling forward and Shaun Johnson has been brilliant in attack of late. Panthers by 2.