Penrith boss Anthony Griffin says a full-strength Warriors outfit with home advantage is a “totally different beast” to last week’s struggling foes Brisbane.
The Warriors will face a Panthers side looking for their third consecutive NRL win and brimming with confidence after a 31-12 mauling of the Broncos in Queensland.
Penrith’s form contrasts with the ninth-placed Warriors, who have been left reeling by three golden-point defeats in their last four matches.
However Griffin told reporters on Friday the Auckland-based outfit could have easily won all three matches with a bit more luck.
The potential return of prop Albert Vete and second-rower Bodene Thompson, combined with an improving Shaun Johnson, could tip the scales in the Warriors’ favour.
“That’s just an NRL season and everything can ebb and flow, particularly at this time of the year,” Griffin said.
“The Warriors are a totally different beast to what Brisbane were last week.”
The match will go a long way towards determining which team squeezes into the finals, with just two points separating the sides with six matches to play.
Kiwi hotshot Tuimoala Lolohea returns to add offensive thrust to the Warriors’ run-on XIII after being benched in three of the Warriors’ last four games.
David Fusitu’a moves to the centres to accommodate him.
Griffin felt his side’s job would be made more difficult by the 21-year-old’s presence and ability.
“He’s an outstanding player and he’s got a great kick return on him,” he said.
“For him to be back there at fullback, it just makes them even more dangerous.”
The Panthers were boosted this week by the contract renewals of veteran Peter Wallace and forward Trent Merrin, as well as prop Leilani Latu last week.
Crocked five-eighth Te Maire Martin will also line up for Penrith in the NSW Cup as he claws his way back from a serious shoulder injury.
Griffin warned Panthers fans to be patient with Martin.
“It was a pretty horrific injury, a broken bone in his shoulder and he’s only in his first season of first grade,” Griffin said.
“He might need three or four more weeks.”
Two men will be shaved from the 19-man Panthers squad on Friday afternoon.
* The Warriors and Panthers have met 16 times at Mt Smart Stadium, sharing the wins at eight each.
* The Warriors have lost three of their past four matches, with all three losses coming in golden point extra-time.
* Penrith have the overall edge against the Warriors, winning 20 of the 36 matches played, with one draw in 2009.