NRL: NZ Warriors' body count takes toll against rampant Penrith Panthers

With four players leaving the field early, NZ Warriors have played themselves to a standstill, but ultimately fallen to their sixth straight NRL loss against Penrith Panthers 30-16.

Star forward Tohu Harris, captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, hooker Wayde Egan and centre Rocco Berry were all injured before halftime, which left the Warriors without any replacement players for the final 40 minutes.

That toll may leave them shorthanded again next week, when they're due to face South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Warriors coach Nathan Brown had made several late changes to his line-up, moving Tuivasa-Sheck to the halves for the first time in his career. Harris and Chad Townsend returned early from shoulder injuries, and Euan Aitken and Josh Curran had emerged from enforced COVID-19 isolation.

Those changes brought the team almost to full strength for the first time in several weeks and renewed hopes that a playoff run might start with victory over the competition frontrunners, missing their star half duo of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.

But only two minutes after kickoff, giant forward Viliame Kikau charged down Townsend's clearing kick and regathered to put the Panthers ahead early.

The Warriors regrouped and responded with a try to Egan, after he combined with prop Matt Lodge and took a return pass to score. Reece Walsh converted for a 6-4 lead and then put Berry across for a try to stretch the lead.

By then, the damage had been done, with Harris, RTS and Egan already departing, and Berry joining them on the stroke of halftime.

Penrith winger Brian To'o scored a try and Kikau barrelled over for his second, as the Panthers took a 16-10 advantage into the break, but the second half began, with Egan the only live-ish body on the Warriors bench, still nursing his shoulder injury, but willing to go, if needed.

The Panthers never capitalised fully on the building fatigue, which speaks volumes for the Warriors' courage, but two tries to Charlie Staines and another to Liam Martin ensured the competition points were always theirs.

Battling to the end, Walsh crossed for the final try of the contest and threatened on a couple of other occasions, but the real heroes were front-rowers Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua-Blake, who both played the full 80 minutes, with no respite available. 

That result leaves the Warriors four points outside the top-eight playoff spots and their post-season chances fading by the week.

Panthers 30 (Kikau 2, Staines 2, Martin & To'o tries; Crichton 3 conversions) Warriors 16 (Egan, Walsh & Berry tries; Walsh 2 conversions)