Head coach Tony Kemp has retained his new-look starting line-up for the Vodafone Warriors� bid for a third straight NRL win on Saturday night. Taking on the Panthers in Penrith, the Vodafone Warriors will seek to maintain their push for a play-offs spot after successive wins against the Roosters and Canberra.
In each of those victories, Kemp shuffled his starting combination with regular standoff Nathan Fien going to hooker, loose forward Sione Faumuina to standoff, prop Ruben Wiki to the second row and hooker Lance Hohaia to the bench as an impact player.
�That combination worked well for us in the last two matches,� said Kemp. �We felt we needed something different against the Roosters in what was a desperate game for us.�
The upshot was just the second instance of repeat victories since 2003, the first coming earlier this season when the Vodafone Warriors beat South Sydney and Wests Tigers in successive weeks. In the search for the first run of three wins since late 2003, Kemp today confirmed he would stay with his reshaped starting combination which has set the tone in the last two outings. Hohaia has benefited from his new role scoring three tries in the last two weeks coming on at hooker from the bench.
�We�ve seen a big improvement in the players� self belief since the win over Brisbane and we need that to continue,� said Kemp.
�But nothing has really changed for us despite our last two wins � we need to win again this week. Just like last week this is a must-win match for us. That�s how we have to approach it.�
The Panthers, one match away from a repeat grand final last year, are running 13th in the competition. They were beaten 38-18 by North Queensland last Saturday night but Kemp isn�t fooled by that result.
�They have a good record against us and their side is full of dangerous players,� he said. �There�s a chance Tony Puletua will be back from injury and he�ll be out to impress against his fellow countrymen.�
The Vodafone Warriors go into this weekend�s round one position better than they were a week ago. They�ve moved into 11th place on 20 points but the competition is such that anything could still happen. Competition-leading Brisbane is clear on 32 points with Parramatta second on 26 but no fewer than six teams are on 24 points covering third to eighth place.
�It�s an unbelievable competition but our focus is solely on trying to win this weekend.� The Vodafone Warriors are also close to being back to near full fitness. Captain Steve Price returned early from a knee injury last week and now back rower Louis Anderson is set to do the same. The knee he injured against Parramatta was expected to keep him out until the round 25 match against Manly but he has been named as 18th man for this weekend�s trip.
�He�s coming along well and we�re using this match to work him back into the system, as we did with Steve when we played the Roosters,� said Kemp.
Interchange forward Karl Temata, who made his debut in 2002, is poised to play his 50th first-grade match on Saturday night while vice-captain Monty Betham will make his 98th appearance. Englishman Russell Smith has been appointed as referee. He controlled three of the Vodafone Warriors� matches in the first six rounds when they beat Brisbane, South Sydney and Newcastle.
VODAFONE WARRIORS V PENRITH Penrith Stadium, Penrith 7.30pm, Saturday, July 30
VODAFONE WARRIORS TEAM
1 BRENT WEBB 2 FRANCIS MELI 3 CLINTON TOOPI 4 JEROME ROPATI 5 TODD BYRNE 6 SIONE FAUMUINA 7 STACEY JONES 8 IAFETA PALEAAESINA 9 NATHAN FIEN 10 STEVE PRICE (C) 11 RUBEN WIKI 12 WAIRANGI KOOPU 13 MONTY BETHAM Interchange: RICHARD VILLASANTI, KARL TEMATA, LANCE HOHAIA, AWEN GUTTENBEIL 18th man: LOUIS ANDERSON
Referee: Russell Smith