ISP Match Preview: Qualifying Final
The finals of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW competition arrive a week early as the Panthers take on New Zealand Warriors at UOW Jubilee Oval in Kogarah on Sunday.
A stellar coaching performance from Garth Brennan led the Panthers to third on the ISP ladder as he juggled the responsibility of developing talent from the Holden Cup and calling upon NRL calibre players to work alongside his core group of players.
Led by the likes of competition top scorer Darren Nicholls and reliable hooker Mitch Rein, the Panthers finished with the strongest attack and defence in the competition and a points differential of +307. Their tally of 318 points conceded is a record low across the ISP, NRL and Holden Cup competitions in 2017.
Brennan faces a familiar dilemma having to piece together his side with injuries to Dylan Edwards and Matt Moylan in the NRL impacting his selection. Regular fullback Jarome Luai, coming off a hat-trick in the last round of the season, continues in the five-eighth role for Tyrone May, while Tony Satini comes in for Dean Whare.
However, he is able to call upon hardened NRL forwards Moses Leota, Sitaleki Akauola and Viliame Kikau as they form an imposing starting pack. Promising youngsters Kaide Ellis and Liam Martin are also named to start alongside them.
They come up against a Warriors side that are coming off a four game unbeaten run and boast several players with NRL experience themselves. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will be familiar to Panthers fans after the winger scored a double at Pepper Stadium in the NRL earlier this season.
The likes of Mason Lino, Zachary Santo and Albert Vete have also had stints in the NRL in 2017, while Matthew Allwood, Bureta Faraimo and Manaia Cherrington have in seasons prior.
ISP HIGHLIGHTS ROUND 25: Luai's hat-trick leads Panthers to victory
The Panthers will go in to this match full of confidence after coming away undefeated both times they squared off against the Warriors this year.
The Panthers were heading towards the two competition points in Round 10 when May crossed over with ten minutes remaining to put his side ahead 24-22 but for a penalty goal from Lino tying the scores and ending the game in a draw.
Their return fixture in Round 18 was locked at 18-all until Lino stepped up once again, this time kicking a field goal with five minutes remaining to edge the Warriors ahead. However, a last-gasp try to Mason Cerruto snatched victory for the Panthers and saw them travel back across the Tasman with their rewards.