The focus might be on Manu Vatuvei this Friday night but the chance of staying in the fight for an NRL finals spot is also on the line for the Warriors.

Sure they might have seven more games after tonight's clash with the Penrith Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium but three of their remaining contests are against teams ahead of them on the ladder and only three of them are in the friendly confines of Mt Smart Stadium.

If the Warriors were to lose tonight they would be faced with having to win at least five of their final seven games just to sneak into the top eight - a seemingly impossible task based on performances so far this season.

Penrith find themselves in the same boat - in fact the two sides sit on 18 competition points and lie in ninth and 10th on the ladder respectively but with a four-point deficit to the eighth-placed side.


It goes without saying that the loser of tonight's encounter will really struggle to make a run at the playoffs.

"It is a really big week," Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson admitted. "We have spoken about it; we understand this is a very important game for both teams. They are in a very similar position to us.

"We want to enjoy that challenge and get excited to play back here on a Friday night because that doesn't happen that often."

The Panthers were the pre-season competition favourites. Stacked with an exciting young roster those expectations might have been a bit premature but the ability is very prevalent as the Warriors found out first hand back in round 10.

After firing out to 28-6 halftime lead the Warriors allowed the Panthers back into the game in the second half and the floodgates opened - the visitors eventually going down 36-28.

"It was a very disappointing day a few weeks back and it still sits in my belly and hopefully it sits in a few of the boys," Johnson said of that loss at Pepper Stadium.

"We just want to play good footy and put on a good show for the people that come out and watch."

As it is in any game the battle in the middle third of the park looms as the key part of the game. The Warriors have won most of their games this season when they have at least had parity in that area and will at least be fresh after two byes in the past four weeks.

"You take a break anytime you can get it through a long NRL season," Johnson said.

"I haven't made too much of [having the byes so close together]. I made the most of the break and feel really good and feel really excited ahead of this week and heading into the last few games."

Kick-off is at 8pm.