Stopping Penrith's 'dangerous' giant Viliame Kikau a Warriors priority in NRL play-off

Penrith's ferocious Fijian edge is triggering alarm bells at the Warriors ahead of Saturday's NRL finals showdown.

Giant second-rower Viliame Kikau has been identified as a monumental threat ahead of the encounter in Sydney, particularly in conjunction with his Fiji international teammate Waqa Blake.

Kikau's unrivalled power on the Panthers left edge has turned him into one of the NRL's premium attacking weapons.

The 23-year-old has continued his barnstorming form from last year's World Cup, when he terrorised the Kiwis in the Bati's famous 4-2 quarter-final win. He was later included in the team of the tournament.

Kikau and Blake made life miserable for centre Peta Hiku during the 30-point thumping of the Warriors in Penrith in July, tallying 13 tackle busts and 299m run between them.

The Warriors bounced back in Auckland, winning 36-16, yet Kikau was still a big threat with six tackle busts.

Warriors second-rower Tohu Harris says he and Hiku will be stretched to the limit containing the 23-year-old.

"He certainly is one of the biggest challenges in the comp and he hasn't just shown it in flashes throughout the season," Harris said.

"He's done it consistently throughout the season - tearing sides apart and showing how dangerous he is."

Warriors coach Stephen rates former Fiji schools rugby union representative Kikau as one of several threats in a Panthers team who were missing then injured five-eighth James Maloney at Mt Smart Stadium two weeks ago.

Maloney's halves combination with NSW Origin teammate Nathan Cleary is potentially destructive if the Warriors get on the back foot.

"Kikau's obviously a very dangerous threat with the footy. Blake outside him's very dangerous also," Kearney said.

"They've got a couple of pretty dangerous halves. If I keep going I'll fill the players' minds up with too much information.

"We know we've got a game plan which, if we execute, we give ourselves a great opportunity."

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 24: Viliame Kikau of the Panthers on the charge against Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a of the Warriors during the round 24 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium on August 24, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)
Viliame Kikau of the Panthers on the charge against Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a of the Warriors during the round 24 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium. Source: Getty

Warriors aim to continue to defy NRL odds with historic win against Panthers

Defying NRL expectations is what the Warriors have been doing for the best part of 15 years.

Be that for good, or bad.

Just ask the rusted on fans of the New Zealand club, who watched as arguably the best spine in the game won just seven matches last year to miss the finals for a sixth straight season.

External expectations for this year were then laid bare when former Kangaroos centre Ryan Girdler remarked in commentary during last year's grand final that Melbourne star Tohu Harris would be playing in his last decider after he had signed to head across the Tasman.

The sledge infuriated Warriors fans, who watched their team defy the critics to sit in the NRL's top four for the best part of the opening 15 rounds before finishing eighth to set up Saturday's elimination final against Penrith

"I vaguely remember that, " Harris said, when reminded of Girdler's comment this week.

"We probably have (proved critics wrong) but we've not really taken much notice of outside noise. That's not our focus on why we perform.

"We just try and keep our thoughts and focus in what we need to do throughout the week to play well."

Few teams do the opening fortnight of the finals from the bottom of the eight as well as the Warriors.

Since their run to the grand final in 2002 from first place, the Warriors have won six of nine matches in the opening two weeks of a finals series.

All six of those victories have come as the lower-placed team, while the one time they've been the higher ranked outfit it ended in defeat.

So they find themselves in a familiar predicament against fifth-placed Penrith on Saturday - heading into a finals series they'll have to contest entirely on the road.

But unlike the past - where the Warriors won just 19 of 68 games in Australia between 2012 and 2017 - they're now confident away from home after recording their first winning record outside Auckland since 2010.

"I don't think there should be any fear anyway," Harris said.

"This time of the year isn't something to fear, it's something to be excited about and be excited to be a part of.

"When you look forward to things and you do it in a positive way I think you're giving yourself a better chance to perform because that's what this part of the year is about."

Coach Stephen Kearney says the side is purely focused on executing this week's game plan. Source: 1 NEWS

Mitchell Pearce backs young Māori star Kalyn Ponga to shine in Knights' halves

Mitchell Pearce has backed Kalyn Ponga to succeed in Newcastle's halves next year if coach Nathan Brown makes the move.

Brown revealed last month he would speak to Ponga over the off-season about a possible switch from fullback to five-eighth for 2019, and that he would leave the decision in the 20-year-old's hands.

And Pearce said if Ponga was moved into the halves to accompany him it would be a great fit for the Queensland State of Origin rookie after he led the club for try assists, linebreak assists, linebreaks and tackle busts this year.

"I definitely think that's where there's no doubt his game suits that position," Pearce told AAP.

"There were times there he was only our chief ball-player when I was out and different guys (were out).

"Being a young guy and still coming up with match-winning plays in a team that as far as stats go isn't winning the play-the-ball and the run metres and that sort of stuff.

"It's quite hard to play as a half with that."

Ponga was named the Knights players of the year on Tuesday night after his first full NRL season, while he could still become the youngest ever Dally M Medal winner in grand final week.

Pearce and Ponga played together in just 11 games this year, as they battled injuries and struggled to find momentum together in their first year at the rebuilding club.

However they found success in their one game together in the halves, as Ponga made the switch against Penrith in round 23 before he was ruled out for the final fortnight with injury.

"I knew once I started training with him I could see how good he was," Pearce said.

"Guys that play long careers, you can see a twinkle in their eyes when they're 19 or 20. You can tell they're going to kick on. Especially young halves or fullbacks, you can tell if they've got it.

"You can tell he's got that look in his eyes. You can see that straight away, the way he talks, the way he holds himself and sees the game.

"There was no doubt he was going to do well but I think he's blown everyone's mind how well he's done."

Ponga had to convince his parents but he says they’ll have tears in their eyes at State of Origin II. Source: 1 NEWS



Bulldogs players handed fines as big as $25,000 as punishments rain down after Mad Monday saga

Adam Elliott and Asipeli Fine have both copped heavy fines from Canterbury after the club were slugged with a record $250,000 sanction for their Mad Monday saga by the NRL.

The Bulldogs were issued with a breach notice on Thursday after images of players stripping naked and passing out on the street were published by media outlets on Tuesday.

The club has five days to respond and chief executive Andrew Hill said they accepted the behaviour was inappropriate, but he did not indicate whether he would challenge the fine's severity.

Hill handed down $25,000 fines to Elliott and Fine - of which $10,000 is suspended - after the nude images of the pair appeared in the media.

Marcelo Montoya and Zac Woolford were also fined $10,000, with $5000 suspended. No staff present at the event have been were sanctioned.

None of the players were suspended from any matches, but Greenberg revealed three players were under police investigation.

"These are good people who have acted in an immature and juvenile way. They have accepted responsibility for their actions and have apologised to the club for their behaviour," Hill said.

Greenberg said he took a dim view of the incident given the event was organised by the club and senior officials, including coach Dean Pay and general manager of football Gareth Holmes, were both present at the Harbour View Hotel in Sydney's Rocks.

"The club organised the event and failed to implement the most basic of measures to ensure it was conducted in an appropriate way," he said.

"The club's failure to manage the event followed specific directives to all clubs to ensure these type of events do not damage our game.

"The players' behaviour embarrassed themselves, their club and the game."

It's the biggest fine the NRL has ever handed down for behavioural issues.

By comparison, two years ago Mitchell Pearce was fined $125,000 over his lewd Australia Day video.

Greenberg, a former CEO of the Bulldogs, said he wanted to send a message after the drama diverted attention from the first week of the finals.

"The actions of some players and officials was inexcusable and we are determined to send a message that it will not be tolerated on this occasion - or in the future," he said.

"There has been a real improvement in player behaviour this year - and we should all acknowledge that.

"But to have this kind of incident on the eve of our finals is more than disappointing and there has to be a deterrent to ensure we have no repeat of this behaviour."

Front page of the Daily Telegraph of Bulldogs' Mad Monday celebrations.
Front page of the Daily Telegraph of Bulldogs' Mad Monday celebrations. Source: Daily Telegraph


'It's a new competition' - Warriors ignoring recent big win, historic results against Panthers for playoff clash

It may still be fresh in the mind of some fans but the Warriors aren't taking anything from their decisive win over the Panthers two weeks ago - or any other match for that matter.

The Warriors touched down in Sydney ahead of their first appearance in the NRL playoffs in seven years this afternoon with an elimination match against the Panthers taking place on Saturday night.

Coach Stephen Kearney says the team haven't been swept up by the emotions of returning to finals footy.

"It's a new competition now so we're preparing for their best performance, so our focus this week has been preparing well so we take our best performance as well.

"It's a new ball game now."

The Kiwi club played Penrith just under two weeks ago, cementing their place in this year's top eight with a 36-16 win at Mt Smart Stadium.

But outside of the result, the Warriors haven't managed to beat the Panthers in Australia since 2012.

Kearney said previous games don't matter come Saturday night.

"We've had those sorts of obstacles put in our way all year. We hadn't won in Perth for a long time. We hadn't won up in Townsville for a long time as well."

The winner of Saturday's eliminator will face the loser of clash between the Roosters and Sharks next week.

Coach Stephen Kearney says the side is purely focused on executing this week's game plan. Source: 1 NEWS