NRL Preview
New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers
Friday, July 14, 6pm (AEST) at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland

This shapes up as a must-win clash for both sides as they both currently sit on 18 competition points – four points behinds the Eels in 8th spot. A loss for either side could spell the end of their finals aspirations, especially with the Eels getting two points for the bye this week. The Warriors will have revenge on their minds after they blew a 28-4 lead at Penrith in Round 10 to be run down 36-28. The Warriors have received a huge boost in the lead-up to this clash, with Issac Luke returning from injury, while Solomone Kata takes his spot at centre after missing the Round 17 match against the Sea Eagles due to personal reasons.

The Panthers have won 7 of the last 9 clashes against the Warriors, including a remarkable 36-28 victory at Penrith earlier this year, overcoming a 24-point deficit. The Warriors have won the last two against the Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium.

New Zealand are 10th on the ladder with a 7-9 record and have won three of their last five but entered the bye off a 26-22 loss to Manly in Perth where they butchered an early 16-0 lead. The Warriors have scored at least 21 points in their last five matches. Penrith ground out a 16-8 win over a depleted Manly team at home in an unimpressive Round 18 win. They are ninth on the ladder, also with a 7-9 record. The Panthers are 0-3 outside NSW and dropped their last two prior to the Manly victory.

Key Matchup
Simon Mannering v Trent Merrin: Mannering has been very good for the Warriors in their last two matches. He had 15 runs for 155 metres and made 60 tackles in the Round 16 win over the Bulldogs. His work-rate was exceptional once again in the Round 17 loss to the Sea Eagles, leading the Warriors forwards with 18 runs for 179 metres and 54 tackles. Merrin is the leader of the Panthers pack and it’s worth nothing that Panthers coach Anthony Griffin has started to increase his minutes over the past two weeks. No one can ever question Merrin’s work-rate as he led the Panthers forwards in the win over the Sea Eagles with 185 metres from his 18 hit-ups. The concern is the six tackles he missed in the match. Looks a great battle between two of the most consistent performers in the NRL.

Stats That Matter
– New Zealand are 7-9 ATS with an 8-8 total number while Penrith are 6-10 ATS with a 9-7 under number.

– Penrith have won 7 of the last 9 clashes against New Zealand.

– Penrith have scored at least 20 points in their last eight against the Warriors.

– The Warriors have won the last two against the Panthers at Mt Smart.

– Earlier this season the Warriors led 28-4 before losing 36-28.

– The Warriors have covered just 5 of their last 18 night games.

– The Warriors have covered and gone under in four straight at Mt Smart.

–  Penrith have covered just 6 of their last 18 interstate since 2014 including four straight non-covers.

– As an interstate underdog of less than a converted try, the Panthers are 1-8 ATS.

– Penrith are 0-5 ATS interstate after scoring 20 or fewer the week prior.

– The Warriors have covered 10 of their last 14 off a bye.

Final Thoughts
The Wolf is always cautious about backing the Warriors, but it’s now or never if they have finals aspirations this year. They’ll have a point to prove after their capitulation against the Panthers in Round 10 and the return of Luke is a massive in.

How It’s Shaping Up
New Zealand by 6

Best Bet
New Zealand -2.5 ($1.91)

Other Recommended Bets
Over 39.5 ($1.88)

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