Penrith Panthers v New Zealand Warriors
Kick-off: 5.30pm Saturday
Desperate to step up at home and snap a five-game losing streak, Penrith Panthers tackle New Zealand Warriors at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
The Warriors are clinging on to a slim chance of making the finals despite struggling for form in the midst of their own winless run of four matches.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary is able to recall experienced winger David Simmons at the expense of Waqa Blake. The only other change sees Bryce Cartwright promoted to the starting side, with Sika Manu dropping back to the bench. Lewis Brown retains his spot in the centres, along with Isaah Yeo, and Josh Mansour continues his comeback from injury on the wing.
Despite going down to Parramatta Eels in a scrappy affair in Darwin last week, Cleary would have taken some consolation from the work of his forwards in the hot conditions. Sam McKendry, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey ran for a combined 425 metres, ably supported by backline pair Will Smith and Josh Mansour, combining for a further 277 metres.
However Cleary will no doubt be demanding a much improved effort with the ball in opposition territory after a host of chances to score points were squandered.
Penrith’s recent form has seen them slip down the ladder and the Panthers now sit just two points above the Newcastle Knights at the foot of the table.
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden has been forced to make a host of changes to his side as Dominique Peyroux, Sam Rapira, Ryan Hoffman and Konrad Hurrell all return this week. Manu Vatuvei (injury), Ben Matulino (suspension), Sebastine Ikahihifo and Siliva Havili (both dropped) miss out from the side that went down 36-0 to St George Illawarra Dragons in Wellington last Saturday.
Recent clashes between the two sides have gone Penrith’s way, claiming four of the past five encounters. The last time they met was in Round 26 of the 2014 season at Pepper Stadium, when the Panthers triumphed 22-6 in a match that saw them cement a top four position, while the Warriors fell just short of a finals place.
In spite of the form and injury crisis at both clubs, there will be no shortage of effort from the two captains leading their teams out this weekend. Kiwi internationals Elijah Taylor and Simon Mannering are both renowned for their grit, determination and consistently high workloads.
Panthers skipper Taylor has been a defensive machine this year, averaging 50 tackles per game and sits fourth on the overall tackle count in the NRL this season. Along with his strong defence, Taylor is able to contribute in attack with his ball playing ability and endurance, often lasting the full 80 minutes on the field.
Experienced Warriors and New Zealand captain Mannering is just as important to his side in defence, sitting one spot behind Taylor in fifth on the NRL tackle count this season, averaging 46 tackles per game. A stalwart in the Warriors team, Mannering is also likely to play the full 80 minutes as he hopes to keep his side within touching distance of the top eight.