Where do we go now?

The representative break may have given us all time to regroup, time to cool off, time to gather our thoughts, but it certainly hasn’t stopped the flow of questions directed towards Warrior Nation. Is there a drug problem at Mt Smart? Were the players hung out to dry? Has Konrad Hurrell played his last game for the Warriors in the NRL? Was the punishment harsh enough? Should they have been selected this week? Are the players’ actions simply the product of their environment, of a negative culture at the club? How long has it been going on for? Has Andrew McFadden lost the support of the players? Who is to blame? I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

Everyone and their dog has had their say and, to be honest, I’m sick of the conversation. What a relief it is that, finally, on Saturday evening in the Garden City, we can turn our attention back to the footy. Maybe we’ll even get a few answers, at least on the field. Because only on Saturday will we know if the change we saw against the Dragons was temporary, or if it really was the line in the sand that Ryan Hoffman spoke so passionately about. Only then will we know if the scandal was the turning point we all hope it is or just another wrong turn in another lost season. It’s easy to ride emotion for a short time — but where do we go now? Do the business on the field, and all the off-field drama will quickly fade. But a few more losses and you have to wonder if the entire house of cards might come tumbling down.

The difficulty for the men from Mt Smart on Saturday is that Penrith won’t play as poorly as St George did. If the Warriors are to win this game, they’ll not only have to earn it with energy and enthusiasm, they’ll need to perform at a high level — the Panthers have proved that they won’t lie down for anyone in 2016. Despite only four wins from their nine games, Penrith’s biggest loss has been by just 8 points (Round 1 v Canberra). Along the way they’ve beaten Brisbane and the Eels, and lost narrowly to the Cowboys and Cronulla in games they had opportunities to win. They’re a quality outfit whose position on the ladder doesn’t reflect how well they’ve been playing and, with Origin hopefuls Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartright leading the way, they boast game-breakers right across the park.

On the personnel front for the Warriors, it’s a mix of the old and the new. Matulino and Thompson return from the dog box, while the likes of Gavet, Tevaga and Palavi have been rewarded for their strong showing against the Dragons. Thomas Leuluai and Tui Lolohea have recovered from minor injuries, forcing the impressive David Fusitu’a back to the wing. There’s a few whispers that Simon Mannering may be a late inclusion, and some reports suggest Manu Vatuvei will also re-join the side (although that seems slightly doubtful after he stated in a mid-week interview that ‘my body is ready to play and stuff, but my mind is not there’), but you get the sense that it doesn’t matter who plays. What matters most might be which Warriors team shows up — the half-asleep crew that turned out against Melbourne, or the fired-up 17 who ran out against St George.

With all the changes to the side, the two-week break and the undercurrent of drama still sloshing beneath the surface of this Warriors squad, it’s difficult to predict how this match will play out. So I’m keen to hear your predictions, and well done Christchurch on the full house — let’s hope the game is as exciting as the last time the Warriors came to town in 2010.

FLASHBACK

Kevin Locke almost cut in half by the goalpost as he grabs the winner at the buzzer in Christchurch, 2010.

TEAMS

Warriors

1 Tuimoala Lolohea

2 Jonathan Wright

3 Blake Ayshford

4 Solomone Kata

5 David Fusitua

6 Thomas Leuluai

7 Shaun Johnson

8 Jacob Lillyman

9 Jazz Tevaga

10 James Gavet

11 Bodene Thompson

12 Ryan Hoffman (c)

13 John Palavi

Interchange

14 Issac Luke

15 Ben Matulino

16 Charlie Gubb

17 Shaun Lane

Penrith

1 Matt Moylan (c)

2 Josh Mansour

3 Waqa Blake

4 Peta Hiku

5 Dallin Watene Zelezniak

6 Jamie Soward

7 Peter Wallace

8 Sam McKendry

9 James Segeyaro

10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard

11 Bryce Cartwright

12 Isaah Yeo

13 Trent Merrin

Interchange

14 Tyrone Peachey

15 Jeremy Latimore

16 Leilani Latu

17 James Fisher-Harris

20 Suaia Matagi

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