Penrith may be one of the form teams of the competition but they'll be missing the NSW halfback in the coming weeks and take on a Warriors team that has already beaten them once in 2019.
Stephen Kearney's men thumped the Panthers in their own backyard 30-10 last month, in a match that stretched Penrith's losing streak to six games.
But since then the men from the foot of the Blue Mountains have rallied, beating the Eels, Sea Eagles, Roosters and Souths to hold the second-best current winning streak in the league behind Melbourne.
The Warriors meanwhile were beaten by Brisbane and the Storm, before escaping with a narrow four-point victory over the Titans last start.
Warriors: Stephen Kearney team will run out 1-17. From their round-14 team, Tohu Harris (knee) has been replaced in the back row by Jazz Tevaga. Nathaniel Roache returns from a back injury and takes the place of Issac Luke. Sam Lisone and Leivaha Pulu are new faces on the bench. Lisone hasn't played since round five while Pulu is making his first appearance of 2019. Tevita Satae and Chanel Harris-Tavita were trimmed from the reserves on Saturday. Gerard Beale and Ligi Sao were omitted an hour before kick-off.
Panthers: The Panthers have made a latch change with Dean Whare taking Hame Sele's place as the fourth player on the interchange. Sione Katoa was also omitted an hour before kick-off. Jarome Luai comes in for halfback Nathan Cleary, who is out with an ankle injury. Kaide Ellis and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak were cut from the squad 24 hours before kick-off.
Blake Green v James Maloney. Both these veteran playmakers have embraced the challenge of becoming the main man for their sides in attack – Green taking the No.7 jersey after the exit of Shaun Johnson and Maloney stepping up at state and club level in the absence of Nathan Cleary. Green is a master of forcing repeat sets and organising his side in attack while Maloney is full of confidence after playing a key role in levelling the Origin series for the Blues.
For the Warriors to win
Feed Roger Tuivasa-Sheck the ball. The talismanic skipper and New Zealand fullback is one of rugby league's most electrifying ball-runners but if he's not heavily involved his team tends to struggle. The Warriors won only once when Tuivasa-Sheck has had fewer than 30 touches in a game, but they've lost only once when he's had more than 30 touches. Across their five wins RTS has made four try assists and scored three tries, while in their seven losses he contributed just one try assist and two tries. It's not rocket science, but get RTS the ball as often as possible and good things tend to happen.
For the Panthers to win
Keep it close early. Ivan Cleary's men haven't clicked in attack yet this year but they've inherited the ability to grind out wins in low-scoring contests that typified Cleary's Wests Tigers side last season. In the past month Penrith have managed to hold their opposition to scores of 10, 12, 10 and 18, with scrambling defence making up for some lacklustre attack. But in the two games before that the Panthers conceded 30 points – with the floodgates opening early. They leaked two tries in the first 20 minutes against the Warriors and a whopping five tries in the opening 20 against the Tigers. Keep things tight, and the Panthers could sneak away with a fifth straight victory.
Brett Kimmorley says
Blake Green will be really important for the Warriors. The absence of Nathan Cleary means James Maloney will need to be the star and he’s more than happy to do that. At some stage the Warriors need to start winning – this is one they simply have to win if they are going to make a move up the ladder. Warriors by 8
The Panthers rank first in some unwanted categories. They've made the most errors and missed tackles and conceded the most penalties, and they've scored the fewest tries. On the bright side, their goal-kicking is the best in the NRL and even without Cleary they've got the best back-up sharpshooter in the league in Maloney.
And another thing ...
These teams split the results last season, with the victors scoring 36 points on both occasions. Penrith thrashed the Warriors 36-4 at Panthers Stadium in round 17, only to be beaten 36-16 in Auckland in round 24.