Warriors (2) v Penrith Panthers (3) – Qualifying Final
UOW Jubilee Oval, Sunday 3 September
Streamed LIVE on NSWRL.com.au
Two seriously impressive sides will wrap up the first week of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Finals Series on Sunday – and absolutely anything could happen in the meeting at UOW Jubilee Oval.
The Wyong Roos finished first and the Warriors second after the home-and-away rounds, but a quick glance at the for-and-against column of the final table shows why many people have the Panthers as premiership favourites. They have scored just three more points than Wyong to be the best attacking team of the season, but are easily the best defensively and have notched up more dominant wins than any other side. Throw in a recent record of five wins from their past six matches and they are undoubtedly the competition’s form team.
The Warriors will face the additional task of having to open their finals series away from home, which recently has posed a challenge. Altogether the side has won four games and played out an incredible four draws in NSW this year – better than their usual record – but then went on to lose three of their past four on this side of the Tasman. A few good wins at home to finish the regular season, however, has star hooker Manaia Cherrington full of belief.
“We started the season really well, then we had a bit of a slump towards the middle of the season and we’re starting to find some form,” Cherrington tells NSWRL.com.au. “We’re really looking forward to a big performance this weekend.
“The feeling in the club now is really positive. I know first grade hasn’t had the season they’ve wanted but for us boys, we’re just looking to put in a big finals series.”
The final match of Finals Week 1 will be the third encounter which also featured in last year’s finals series; in 2016, Penrith went down to the Warriors in an elimination final in Auckland. The Warriors haven’t been able to defeat the men from the foot of the mountains since but both 2017 clashes have come down to the wire, with a 26-all draw in Round 10 followed by a 22-19 victory to the Panthers in Round 16, when Mason Cerruto stole it from the Warriors on the buzzer.
Where it will be won:
At times, Team of the Year utility Mason Lino is nothing short of genius on the football field and when you throw in five-eighth Sam Cook and mid-season signings Cherrington and Zac Santo, it’s a hell of a spine to contend with. An undoubted wealth of talent at Penrith, however, has them in a good place also: NRL rookies Dylan Edwards and Tyrone May have vacated places for Tom Eisenhuth and Jarome Luai in key positions, while experienced hooker Mitch Rein made the Team of the Year and halfback Darren Nicholls was not far off. Two huge packs make for a side which, on paper, looks very even across the park.
The result might just be determined by the discipline and handling of the two sides. Penrith’s 11 errors in Round 25 were not ideal while the Warriors had the fewest combined errors and penalties of the round (13). While the Panthers are the best defensive side in the league, they will also want to improve on the 37 tackles missed last week.