Hooker Freddy Lussick has been brought onto the bench in the One New Zealand Warriors’ confirmed line-up for today’s NRL week one finals battle against defending premier Penrith at BlueBet Stadium (4.05pm kick-off local time; 6.05pm NZT).
In the only change to the side listed at the 24-hour deadline yesterday, Lussick takes Bunty Afoa’s spot on the interchange alongside Bayley Sironen, Josh Curran and Jazz Tevaga.
Fullback Taine Tuaupiki is the 18th man with Afoa the 19th.
With Shaun Johnson out, Te Maire Martin starts at halfback with the versatile Dylan Walker at standoff.
An experienced finals campaigner, Walker has been predominantly used off the bench in the middle of the field in his first year with the club but he had four starts at standoff earlier in the season and has moved into the position in a number of other games.
He played extensively in the halves earlier in his career with South Sydney and especially with Manly Warringah.
With Johnson (calf) declared a non-starter on Thursday, Walker takes on the responsibility in the halves again only this time Martin is his partner.
Match: Panthers v Warriors
Finals Week 1 -
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan EdwardsFullback for Warriors is number 1 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Sunia TuruvaWinger for Warriors is number 2 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Stephen CrichtonCentre for Warriors is number 3 Rocco Berry
Centre for Panthers is number 21 Luke GarnerCentre for Warriors is number 4 Adam Pompey
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'oWinger for Warriors is number 5 Marcelo Montoya
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Jack CoggerFive-Eighth for Warriors is number 14 Dylan Walker
Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan ClearyHalfback for Warriors is number 6 Te Maire Martin
Prop for Panthers is number 8 Moses LeotaProp for Warriors is number 8 Addin Fonua-Blake
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Mitch KennyHooker for Warriors is number 9 Wayde Egan
Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-HarrisProp for Warriors is number 10 Mitchell Barnett
2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Scott Sorensen2nd Row for Warriors is number 11 Jackson Ford
2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Liam Martin2nd Row for Warriors is number 12 Marata Niukore
Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah YeoLock for Warriors is number 13 Tohu Harris
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Tyrone PeacheyInterchange for Warriors is number 15 Jazz Tevaga
Interchange for Panthers is number 15 Lindsay SmithInterchange for Warriors is number 16 Bayley Sironen
Interchange for Panthers is number 16 Spencer LeniuInterchange for Warriors is number 17 Josh Curran
Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Zac HoskingInterchange for Warriors is number 18 Freddy Lussick
Replacement for Panthers is number 18 Jaeman SalmonReplacement for Warriors is number 20 Taine Tuaupiki
- Referee: Adam Gee
- Touch Judge: Dave Munro
- Touch Judge: Chris Sutton
- Senior Review Official: Ashley Klein
Martin, making his third appearance in his comeback from a broken fibula, is familiar with Bluebet Stadium after kick-starting his NRL career with 13 appearances for Penrith in 2016 and 2017.
Other than the match against the Dolphins when he was among a number of first-choice players rested, this will be the first match Johnson has missed this season.
He was on the field for all but 22 minutes of the first 23 games of the campaign.
As well as Johnson, the other players omitted from the initial squad of 22 were prop Tom Ale and winger Edward Kosi.
Another feature of the line-up is the inclusion of energetic middle forward Jazz Tevaga on the interchange.
Tevaga, who turned 28 on Monday, returns after missing the last three games of the regular season campaign with a hamstring injury picked up in the round 24 win over the Wests Tigers in Hamilton.
It was only his second match back in a season in which the livewire middle forward has been limited to just eight appearances.
Making a delayed start in round three following offseason surgery, he put together a run of six games before a calf injury in the Anzac Day clash against Melbourne sidelined him for more than three months. Of the eight matches he has played in the Warriors have won six.
After being used from the interchange in his last outing against St George Illawarra, second rower Jackson forward returns to the starting line-up with Josh Curran going back to the bench.
The match-up is a repeat of the One New Zealand Warriors’ last finals match in week one of the 2018 play-offs but both sides were then in the bottom half of the top eight, the fifth-placed Panthers beating the eighth-placed Warriors 27-12.
The One New Zealand Warriors have four survivors from that match in their 2023 squad in middle forwards Tohu Harris, Tevaga and Bunty Afoa plus Johnson.
Also involved in that contest was Dallin Watene-Zelezniak who was the Panthers’ fullback then but comes back to his original NRL club as the One New Zealand Warriors’ runaway leading try scorer this year.
Of the Penrith side fielded on September 8, 2018, those who remain are centre Tyrone Peachey, halfback Nathan Cleary, back rower Isaah Yeo and front rowers James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota.
The Warriors have a third ex-Penrith player in 106-game hooker Wayde Egan, who made 29 appearances for the Panthers in 2018 and 2019.
Since the 2019 season, the Panthers have set the benchmark in the NRL, playing in three consecutive grand finals and winning the last two in 2021 and 2022 while wrapping up the 2023 minor premiership yet again last weekend.
The two teams met only once in the 2023 regular season, the Panthers winning a tough and controversial Magic Round contest 18-6 at Suncorp Stadium on May 6.
After that defeat the One New Zealand Warriors went on a run which netted 11 wins from 13 matches before losing to the Dolphins when they fielded a combination missing a host of frontline players.
This is the ninth finals campaign in the Warriors’ history, only the third time they’ve been in the top four.