Panthers v Warriors, Saturday 7.30pm at ANZ Stadium
The Warriors are looking to make the most of their first NRL finals appearance in seven years when they take on Penrith in Saturday night's sudden-death clash in Sydney.
The Auckland-based side received a boost on match eve with captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (ankle) and retiring forward Simon Mannering (sternum) both cleared to face the Panthers after suffering injuries in last week's win over Canberra.
Both players got through Friday's captain's run at ANZ Stadium with Tuivasa-Sheck completing his first field session of the week while Mannering is set to make his 301st appearance after being forced from the field in his milestone match against the Raiders.
Penrith finished the regular season in fifth spot to secure a 'home' final but had to forgo their session at ANZ Stadium yesterday afternoon due to the possibility of storms. The Cameron Ciraldo coached side instead went through their final paces at the Panthers Academy.
The two sides met twice through the regular season with Penrith inflicting a worrying 36-4 defeat in round 17 at Panthers Stadium, that had many questioning the Warriors' finals credentials.
The Stephen Kearney coached outfit turned the tables and sealed their spot in the top eight with a dominant 36-16 win over the Panthers in round 24 at Mt Smart Stadium, before last week's gritty final round win over Canberra.
The Panthers looked to be fading late in the season but the return of captain and five-eighth James Maloney from injury helped them to last week's morale-boosting 22-16 away win over reigning premiers Melbourne.
This match should be a thriller with both teams boasting plenty of attacking talent, skill, size and speed. Expect a high-scoring affair that goes right down to the wire.
Our Tip: Warriors by eight points
There are exciting individual clashes right across the park particularly in the halves with Warriors No 7 Shaun Johnson opposing
and experienced five-eighth Blake Green facing off with Maloney.
For the Warriors to win: The Kiwi side boast plenty of attacking power through the backline including the NRL's top try-scorer David Fusitu'a (22), but Issac Luke needs to get his running game going out of dummy-half to take pressure of his halves and get their big men rolling through the middle.
For the Panthers to win: Penrith need to reproduce the gutsy effort that saw them upset the Storm at AAMI Park and win the physical battle against the Warriors forwards and powerful outside backs. Expect Maloney to send rampaging second-rower Villiame Kikau and dangerous centre Waqa Blake towards Warriors right centre Peta Hiku and Johnson.
Head-to-head: Played 37; Panthers 21 wins, Warriors 15 wins
This season: Warriors won 36-16 in round 24 at Mt Smart Stadium, Penrith won 36-4 in round 17 at Panthers Stadium
Points per game: Panthers 21.5 (8th); Warriors 19.7 (10th)
Points leaked per game: Panthers 19.2 (6th); Warriors 18.6 (5th)
Televised: Live on Sky Sport. NZ Herald will be providing live commentary online on nzherald.co.nz/sport.
UPDATED TEAM LISTS:
1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2. Josh Mansour 3. Waqa Blake 4. Tyrone Peachey 5. Christian Crichton 6. James Maloney (c) 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Trent Merrin 9. Sione Katoa 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris
Interchange: 14. Tyrone May 15.Moses Leota 16. Corey Harawira-Naera 17. James Tamou 19. Jack Hetherington 20. Tyrone Phillips
Team News: Reserve hooker Wayde Egan and forward Kaide Ellis have been cut from Penrith's intial 21-man squad named on Tuesday. Back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera returns to the interchange bench after recovering from concussion, with Jack Hetherington moving out to the reserves.
Warriors: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c) 2. David Fusitu'a 3. Peta Hiku 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Blake Green 7. Shaun Johnson 8. James Gavet 9. Issac Luke 10. Agnatius Paasi 11. Adam Blair 12. Tohu Harris 13. Simon Mannering
Interchange: 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Isaiah Papali'i 16. Bunty Afoa 17. Gerard Beale 18. Leivaha Pulu 22. Karl Lawton
Team News: The Warriors yesterday trimmed back-up half Mason Lino and front-rower Chris Satae from their line-up. Five-eighth Blake Green returns after two weeks out with a calf injury, and front-rower James Gavet is back after missing last week.
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Henry Perenara.