Not Just Any Given Sunday

Everything we have done has led to this moment. Since February we have braved whatever the winter weather could throw at us. We’ve absorbed blow after blow, and there have been casualties — this is the nature of what we do, the price we must pay. We’ve travelled to foreign lands and fought ferocious battles in hostile territory. What we do is not easy.

There have been ups:

And there have been downs:

But all that hardship, all the blood, sweat and tears have provided an opportunity to do something great, to achieve something we will remember for the rest of our lives. An opportunity that four other sides in this competition would kill for. An opportunity to thrust ourselves, our club, and our nation, into the spotlight. A chance to hold a trophy aloft, a chance to be a champion. To be The Champions.

At 1:30pm on Sunday, finals fever comes to Penrose. The eyes of the rugby league world will be transfixed on Mt Smart Stadium. Even the NRL side, who play a meaningless prelude to Mad Monday later on Sunday evening, will experience the bright lights of the playoffs by osmosis. We can only hope the moment will live long in their memories, that it will inspire them to do everything they possibly can to feel that red-hot atmosphere in 2017.

For the hundreds, maybe a thousand, in the crowd, there’ll be a mix of nerves and excitement. The regular season is done and dusted — it’s win or go home. While a normal match day is something to look forward to, there’s nothing else like the playoffs. This is the pinnacle, the one and only time local members of Warrior Nation will taste finals footy in 2016. A moment to savour, and hopefully to celebrate.

Penrith enter the match with a slight mental edge after their win last week, particularly after holding the Warriors scoreless in the second half. The work of Zach Dockar-Clay and Te Maire Martin in the halves will be key — how they lead their side around the field, and capitalise on any opportunities presented by hard-running forwards like Viliame Kikau and Jack Nelson, will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this fixture. They’ll miss the steadying hand of former Warrior Jeremy Latimore, and the spark of dynamic hooker Sione Katoa, but as the Panthers soar over the Tasman Sea, they’ll be filled with a strong belief that they can put an end to Warrior Nation’s 2016 season.

There are changes, too, for the home side. James Gavet returns after a short stint in the top grade, and he’s joined by Patrick Sipley and promising youngster Junior Pauga. I’m especially looking forward to watching Pauga take the field — he’s been carving up defences in the Holden Cup all year and looks like someone to keep an eye on in 2017. On the flip side, both Bunty Afoa and Nathaniel Roache have been named in the NRL squad. The biggest pre-match question is whether either or both of those two players, or perhaps Ata Hingano, will be released for this crucial clash.

After an impressive start to the ISP season, the Warriors have fallen away somewhat in recent weeks. It’s never easy to maintain consistency, with players coming and going to and from the top grade (as demonstrated by the changes this week), but the men from Mt Smart have to put all that into the background. This is not any given Sunday, this is their season on the line. The biggest battle of 2016. They must fight for every inch, on every play, or they will crumble.

But if they can come together, as a team, if they can stand tall and believe in the greatness within them, they have the power to give the loyal members of Warrior Nation the send off we deserve.

MATCH DETAILS

New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers, Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland, 4 September 2016

ISP kick-off: 1:35pm (local)

And if you’d like to stick around afterwards

NYC kick-off v Parramatta: 3:45pm (local)

NRL kick-off v Parramatta: 6pm (local)

FLASHBACK

Back in 2011, the Auckland Vulcans made it all the way to the big dance but fell at the final hurdle in heartbreaking circumstances — can they go one better in 2016?

TEAMS

Warriors

1 HENARE WELLS

2 VILIAMI KAVEINGA

3 GEORGE CARMONT

4 CHARNZE NICOLL-KLOKSTAD

5 MATT ALLWOOD

6 ERIN CLARK

7 MASON LINO (c)

8 JAMES GAVET

9 JAZZ TEVAGA

10 TOAFOFOA SIPLEY

11 JOHN PALAVI

12 SHAUN LANE

13 LIGI SAO

Interchange:

14 JAMES BELL

15 UPU POCHING

16 PATRICK SIPLEY

17 JUNIOR PAUGA

COACH | STACEY JONES

Panthers

  1. MALAKAI WATENE-ZELEZNIAK
  2. CHRIS AUNESE-SCANLON
  3. GEORGE JENNINGS
  4. RAY LESOA
  5. ZAC MACKAY
  6. TE MAIRE MARTIN
  7. ZACH DOCKAR-CLAY (C)
  8. VILIAME KIKAU
  9. BRENDON ATTWOOD
  10. ATONIO PELESASA
  11. COREY HARAWIRA-NAERA
  12. JACK NELSON
  13. ANDY SAUNDERS

Interchange

  1. RICHIE MUNCHOW
  2. PAEA PUA
  3. DYLAN FUAD
  4. JOSH HALL
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