Key magicians missing as Panthers face desperate Warriors

Brian To'o celebrates a try against the Warriors. Photo: Megan Dunn.
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The Panthers and Warriors head to Magic Round this weekend but the chief magicians have been grounded.

Inspirational leaders Nathan Cleary and Shaun Johnson will both be missing after picking up injuries last weekend, but the pressure gauge reads differently for both these sides without their leaders.

Penrith sit in second spot on the ladder and have arguably got through the toughest part of their draw. While losing Cleary isn’t ideal, the team is well positioned to survive the two months without him and still have a serious tilt at the Premiership.

For the Warriors, the pressure is getting real. Now sitting 14th on the ladder, they haven’t won since thrashing Souths back in early April and lost their fourth straight match last Sunday after appearing to forget the game had started, conceding four tries in the opening 12 minutes.

There were high hopes for the Warriors this year on the back of a top four finish last season, but if they drop this game on Sunday there will be serious question marks over their ability to make the Finals.

Dylan Edwards in action against Canterbury. Photo: Megan Dunn.

And Magic Round doesn’t necessarily make things any easier for Andrew Webster’s team. They’ve lost their last three games at the festival of footy, and haven’t beaten the Panthers in their last eight match-ups. To make matters more difficult, they’ve lost their last five games at Suncorp Stadium.

Despite a tonne of injuries, the Warriors aren’t totally without hope here. Penrith come into this game not only without Cleary, but with back-up halfback Brad Schneider also missing after being injured in a horrible incident last Friday night in NSW Cup.

That means Jarome Luai and Jack Cole will be left to guide the team around – and while both are capable of doing so, there’s no doubt things may look a little clunky at times. Thankfully, they’ve had a full week of preparation together and were able to blow out the cobwebs last Friday night given Cole just happened to be on the bench.

The Warriors have named Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad at five-eighth alongside former Panther Te Maire Martin.

Mavrik Geyer has been named on the bench this weekend. Photo: Megan Dunn.

In a boost, the Panthers welcome back both Izack Tago (suspension) and possibly Scott Sorensen (injury).

So with all the injuries and shake-ups in the halves, where does this game land?

I don’t think the Warriors will repeat last week’s early efforts. You can bet your bottom dollar Webster has focused on a better start this week, especially given the match was pretty even once his side finally clocked on at Allianz Stadium.

And I think the Warriors will get their fair share of good field position, given neither Cole or Luai have a long kicking game that matches that of Cleary. Penrith’s defence – a trademark of their Premiership run – will need to be solid.

Sunia Turuva takes on the Canterbury defence. Photo: Megan Dunn.

I can see this game being like the Souths match a few weeks ago. A rusty start from Penrith, maybe even conceding the first couple of tries.
But as the 80 minutes wears on, Penrith should have the forward pack and the class out wide to get the job done.

Desperation won’t be enough for the Warriors. They’ve been desperate for weeks now, and last Sunday’s game against the Roosters would have taken plenty out of them.

A close one for 40 minutes, perhaps, but Penrith fans should be able to put their feet up for much of the second stanza.

Tip: Panthers by 18.

Penrith and the Warriors play at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, May 19 at 1.50pm as part of Magic Round. The game is live on Fox League and Kayo.


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