From Auckland to the Central Coast, and now Queensland. I’m not sure a single NRL game has been shifted to such vast alternates in the game’s history, yet here we are – the Warriors and the Panthers at Suncorp Stadium, of all places.
The disruption of the past week will no doubt impact all of the 12 clubs relocated to Queensland, but players have become used to such inconveniences, and this is simply another hurdle.
For the Warriors, it is nothing new – they’ve spent the last two seasons in a world of uncertainty. For Sunshine Coast-based Penrith, the disruption means little when you consider what is at stake. It’s perhaps the teams not in the mix for a Finals finish who will do it the toughest.
But let’s focus on this Sunday afternoon’s early game and exactly what it means for the Panthers and Warriors.
For Penrith, it’s yet another test for the Matt Burton / Tyrone May halves combination, steering the ship for an injured Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary, both still a few weeks away from returning. Crucially, a win here would almost certainly lock up a top four finish and keep Ivan Cleary’s side in a position to claim their second consecutive Minor Premiership.
For the Warriors, this really is do or die. Nathan Brown’s side is four points out of the top eight and another loss would mean the word ‘mathematically’ starts to get a run. Very rarely does that equation work out.
This Warriors side just can’t seem to produce a complete performance at present. They show signs of what they’re capable off, but it rarely extends to an 80 minute effort.
The Warriors would rate themselves a decent shot this weekend against a Penrith side without Luai and Cleary, and with a host of other players backing up from Wednesday night’s State of Origin.
We saw in matches against the Sharks and Tigers earlier this year that the Panthers have struggled without their natural halves combination, but with more time and preparation perhaps things will start to click more.
Regardless of what’s going on the halves, for me this is a game that’ll be won up front.
Solid performances from James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota should be able to get the Panthers the dominant field position they’ll require to control the flow of the game.
The Panthers currently lead the competition in All Run Metres, All Runs and Kick Return Metres, proving that once they get a roll-on, they’re very difficult to stop.
The Warriors will put up a fight, no doubt, and like in most of their matches they’ll probably manage to put a scare through the opposition at some stage, but calm heads should prevail if the Panthers stick to the game plan.
Shutting down Reece Walsh and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be a key.
I’m expecting a tough opening 20 minutes, but Penrith should do enough in the latter stages of the first half to set up an ultimately dominant victory.
Tip: Panthers by 16.
Penrith and the Warriors play on Sunday, July 18 at Suncorp Stadium at 1.50pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.