Panthers v Warriors preview

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There’s a certain factor in rugby league that can’t be seen on a team sheet, can’t be measured in statistics and can’t be taught on the training paddock.

It’s called belief and it wins football games. After a horrible start to the season, the Panthers appear to have rediscovered their belief, with the 22-4 victory over defending premiers Manly on their last outing one of the most impressive in recent memory.

This week, they’re going to have to channel every shred of that newfound belief, because indeed on paper they appear to be right up against it. Tim Grant’s deserved call-up to the NSW Origin squad comes on the back of his stellar form at club level and along with Origin regulars, Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings, he will be severely missed.

The Warriors on the other hand, have it better than any club in the NRL at Origin time, with their mostly-NZ roster meaning they’re able to field their full-strength squad. Recent history is against the Panthers too, who’ve managed just one win from their last six encounters with the Warriors.

That being said though, Penrith do have one clear advantage: Ivan Cleary. The former Warriors coach, who came across the Tasman to the foot of the mountains in the off-season, will know his former side inside and out and can use that knowledge to his advantage.

But still – one glimpse at that Warriors side on paper and you can’t help but feel it’s going to be tough. They have plenty of attacking weapons, from the raw strength of outside backs like Manu Vatuvei and Konrad Hurrell to the silky skills of Shaun Johnson and Feleti Mateo. Kevin Locke also returns for them on Monday night.

Their forwards are always in your face and they have plenty of impact off their bench, too Penrith will miss Tim Grant’s metres and fast play-the-ball and while the likes of Sam McKendry and Dayne Weston are no slouches, it’s important for Josh Mansour and Etu Uaisele to continue their heavy involvement bringing the ball out of their own territory.

It’s been an age since Michael Jennings wore a Penrith jersey and the side could really do with his spark in attack. His contribution will be sorely missed.

Luke Walsh had one of his better games in recent memory against Manly, mixing things up at the line and executing a near-perfect short kicking game to keep the pressure on the Eagles.

While Walsh has been criticised for his reliance on the bomb at times, it probably couldn’t hurt to throw up a few high ones against the Warriors with Vatuvei in particular known to come up with the odd howler on his own tryline.

Can the Origin-hit Panthers build on their recent form to dispose of the full-strength Warriors? They’ll like their chances – after all, footy games aren’t won on paper. Believe that.

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