Penrith are faced with a make or break situation. Sitting at the bottom of the table after weeks of deteriorating performances the time is now to arrest their 2019 slide.
This week they host the enigmatic Warriors, another loitering towards the bottom of the NRL pack, and Ivan Cleary's men must stand up and make something of a season that seemed theirs for the taking back in March.
This is their shot at redemption after a woeful performance against Wests Tigers last week. Which Warriors team turns up to face them is the perennial NRL question - they brought it home last week but as NRL fans know, it doesn't guarantee a back-up effort.
Panthers: Panthers: The Panthers are 1-17. Dylan Edwards is back in the No.1 after spending a few weeks in reserve grade while Brian To'o debuts on the wing and Waqa Blake is back after being dropped for disciplinary reasons last week. Liam Martin returns from his one-week suspension at lock. Sione Katoa takes over at hooker from Wayde Egan, who is out with a shoulder injury. High-profile casualties of Penrith's horror start are Josh Mansour and Origin prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
Warriors: Issac Luke starts at hooker with Nathaniel Roache (back) dropping out in the only change to the line-up announced on Tuesday.
The halves have a point to prove. Nathan Cleary and James Maloney are looking to show an iota of the form that had them leading the Blues to victory last year while Kodi Nikorima will be keen to shore up his partnership with Blake Green following his mid-season move across the ditch. This is a good chance to put in a strong showing.
For the Panthers to win
Defence. The first three Wests Tigers tries (which came in the first eight minutes) were long range and off short balls around the ruck. The Warriors have players who can cause plenty of damage through the line and their quick ball movement troubled the Dragons last week. Missing 41 tackles like the Panthers did against the Tigers just isn't an option.
For the Warriors to win
It's all about metres. Overall, they're the worst in the competition, on averages just slightly better. But if they want to unleash the devastating talents of someone like the reigning Dally M winner in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, the Warriors' big men need to do the groundwork for him to go to work. Leeson Ah Mau and Tohu Harris were the only two to forwards to run more than 100 metres last week.
Brett Kimmorley says
The Warriors have been inconsistent but Tuivasa-Sheck was back to his best last week. He's not a vocal captain but when he plays well they all follow him. It's up to him again to spark the Warriors. We've said for a number of weeks now that the Panthers' season is on the line, but it's round 10 now – Penrith have to start winning. They've got to stop conceding penalties, they've got to compete at about 85% and they've got to give their halves the chance to build a bit of pressure and show how good they are. They're good players but they're just lacking a bit of form and confidence at the moment. Warriors by 4.
Panthers forward James Fisher-Harris is a tackling machine. He's among the best in the league with 405 to date, but he's also one to target. While making the tackles, Fisher-Harris tallies among the most misses, falling off 47 this season, the same number as Maloney.
And another thing ...
Players and coaches talk about winning becoming infectious but the same goes for losing. Panthers have lost five in a row and the Warriors ended a four-game losing streak with their win last week. They both have loads of incentive this match.