Feleti Mateo's progress a match for Warriors
Feleti Mateo, the big Warriors second rower, represents a lot of what the side has gone through this season and where they have ended up.
Mateo, 30, had a slow start to the season, was dropped to reserve grade, had a few battles with his weight and fitness before he knuckled down under new coach Andrew McFadden and got his season back on the straight and narrow.
The Warriors looked OK early, wavered, sunk just before Matt Elliott left and have been on the straight and narrow since McFadden took over.
Today they have a chance to put themselves into the top eight and, given they haven't been there for two years, that is a big deal.
The Panthers represent all sorts of challenges - their coach, Ivan Cleary, was in charge of the Warriors for six seasons and though he doesn't know all of the players, he knows the culture.
There are also five New Zealanders in the Panthers team and the likes of Dean Whare, Elijah Taylor and Lewis Brown will make this contest all the more intense.
Mateo said earlier this week that the team knows today's contest at Mt Smart Stadium is going to be tough.
"They are obviously on the top of the table for a reason. We have got our work cut out for us this week. We need to be good at execution."
The Warriors won last week against the Broncos but it was ugly.
McFadden said the team lacked focus before the game. Mateo agreed.
"There is always a different feeling in games. The way we felt was probably how we played at the start. It's something to work on for this week and, hopefully, we can correct it."
Mateo said the pace of the game this season was such that he was still building his fitness to keep up.
"I'm just gradually building and hoping to have a good training session every time I get out there so I can take that into games," he said. "[McFadden] has made that a big point for me and something I can work on. The better I train the more game time I can get.
"I'm still struggling with fitness, the game is so quick at the moment it's hard to get used to."
Mateo has, however, been playing with a free-flowing momentum not seen in his first games back from reserve grade.
He said this was down to new adherence to the training and an over-performing backline.
"They are doing such a good job for us getting forward and starting our sets so well it allows guys like myself to come in and play a bit more in the good part of the field. We obviously can't play footy when we are down in our own end, so I take my hat off to those guys."
Mateo said defence had been a massive focus all year and would have to be, particularly against the Panthers.
The Panthers have an extraordinarily resilient defensive line, giving away only three line breaks a game. But, the Warriors have become experts at breaking through tackles, with the likes of Konrad Hurrell leading the charge.
Penrith miss the third most tackles of any team in the competition - about 32 each game. The Warriors break about 25 tackles a game.
Mateo said even though the Warriors were known for their scintillating attack, it was their defence that would see them prevail.
WARRIORS V PANTHERS
WHERE & WHEN
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, today, 4pm (live on Sky Sport 2)
LAST THREE MEETINGS
Panthers won: 28-24 (A) 18/07/2013 Panthers won: 18-16 (A) 19/07/2012 Warriors won: 30-16 (A) 11/06/2012 LAST GAME Warriors: Won 19-10 v Broncos (H) Panthers: Won 18-14 v Dragons (H)
Warriors: WLWWL Panthers: WWWWW TAB ODDS Warriors: $0.00 Panthers: $0.00
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