The Round 21 clash between the ninth-placed Warriors and eighth-placed Panthers shapes as the most important game of the Kiwi club’s season to date, as they push for the right to play finals football.
Following their 26-22 golden point loss to the Raiders last week the Warriors were bumped out of the top eight by the Panthers, and on Saturday have the opportunity to jump straight back into a play-off spot if they can come away with victory at Mt Smart Stadium.
A loss on the other hand would not only see the Warriors miss out on vital competition points, but also gift two to their nearest rival in the process.
Coach Andrew McFadden said there was no hiding from the fact that the result will be a crucial one to his side’s chances of playing into the post-season.
“They are obviously very important, it’s almost like a four-point game,” McFadden said.
“[Penrith play] are a bit of an awkward style, they play a different style of football and have very skilful and agile people, so we are going to have to defend well.
“We have just got to focus on the performance.”
Final training run done ✅
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) July 29, 2016
Having suffered three golden point losses in their last four matches, the Warriors now face the prospect of probably needing to win four of their remaining six games to meet the 28-point mark, which in seven of the past 10 seasons has been the cut-off to make the eight.
Captain Ryan Hoffman admitted there was an air of intensity surrounding Saturday’s clash in Auckland.
“We are looking forward to playing the Panthers this week. When Melbourne play Cronulla it’s a top of the table clash, [and] it’s sort of how it feels for us; it’s a big game and a big occasion,” Hoffman said.
“Every game really is important, we need to start getting those two points, our last three losses have all come in golden point and that’s great, we can pat ourselves on the back…but in the end we need points.
“[Penrith] are young blokes, big blokes and they run hard. They are playing very confident and they will have got a lot of confidence out of their win over the Broncos (in Round 20), because not too many teams go to Brisbane on a Friday night and get the win like that.
“They have done really well and have got their tails up, I don’t think they fear coming to New Zealand and will feel confident coming to our place.”
“In the end we need points” Hoffman
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) July 28, 2016