Warriors v Storm Preview
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Warriors v Storm
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZ Time), 5.30pm (AEST)
Four wins on the trot has made believers out of many when it comes to the Warriors – but perhaps the real test comes here, against a side playing for nothing, in front of your home fans.
After being basically an after-thought for most of the season the Warriors have clawed their way into sixth spot on the NRL ladder and have their destiny in their own hands. They have been impressive defensively since being belted by the Wests Tigers in Round 12, allowing just 15 points a match since.
But they welcome a Storm side that can potentially derail their progress should they lose focus – and it should be remembered it was the Storm who humiliated them just a few months ago.
As the first side to face Melbourne after the salary cap scandal broke, the Warriors were smashed by a fired-up Storm. But revenge in this Rivalry Round would be sweet for the Warriors, as it would potentially lift them as high as third place.
A loss, on the other hand, would thwart the momentum they have and could see them plummet out of the top eight to ninth spot.
The side will look decidedly different to the one that held off the second-placed Panthers 12-6 last week. Lance Hohaia returns at fullback, pushing Jerome Ropati to the centres, Lewis Brown to the second row and Sione Lousi to the bench.
Kevin Locke returns from injury on the wing for Bill Tupou and Brett Seymour also returns at halfback, replacing Isaac John.
Former Test and Origin star Brent Tate also rejoins the side in the centres at Joel Moon’s expense.
The Storm are still battling away hard and would be a top-four side if not for the sanctions imposed on them. Despite falling to the Bulldogs in Adelaide last weekend they have remained loyal to the side, with the only changes being Cameron Smith to start at hooker for Ryan Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hoffman added as an 18th man (who could yet start).
Watch out Warriors: Greg Inglis has been in Cooper Cronk’s ear this week, urging him to kick across-field so the tries can start flowing into the Inglis account. You see, the Queensland and Australian centre has seen the stats sheets showing the Warriors are running 14th at defusing cross-field bombs – and with his vertical leap second only to Israel Folau’s, Inglis wants to cash in.
The Warriors only defuse 35 per cent of cross-field bombs successfully and are running second last for tries scored against them from kicks (16). Melbourne have 15 tries scored from kicks this season.
The only fight Inglis has on his hands is stopping Cronk and Cameron Smith from continuing with the ultra successful grubber and banana kicks for Billy Slater and coercing them to concentrate on him.
An ominous stat is that the Storm haven’t lost three consecutive matches since 2002.
Watch out Storm: The Warriors are ready to get physical in defence. With 353 dominant tackles so far this season, the Warriors run fifth in the statistic and know how to win the wrestle on the ground.
On the other hand the Storm have dished out just 258 dominant tackles to be ranked 14th in the NRL.
If the Storm take it somewhat easy in the ruck, the home side will be able to control the speed of play, and the field position, and their halves should be able to do the rest.
Where it will be won: It might sound vague and a little clichéd, but this match will come down to mental toughness.
The Warriors have had a knack in recent years of producing poor performances at home just when they have looked like a side on the mend. They must first get over this. Second, they must get rid of the fear they have for the Storm. Yes, the side still has the big four and yes, they have nothing to play for so they have released the shackles – but there are several internationals in the Warriors’ line-up and the belief should be there. It’s time to find an inner desire, boys, like you did last weekend, to want to get the job done.
Likewise, the Storm need to be in the right frame of mind. Having played in Adelaide last week and now travelling to Auckland, there is a real chance they could be in ‘holiday’ mode. They can’t get any points from the match, the rep season is over, but they still have pride and in many cases, contracts to play for.
With news up to 10 players could be cut from their roster for next year, the Storm have a bunch of players looking to prove their worth to the market. This could result in better performance… or perhaps even selfish play.
No-one envies the Storm players as they try to get ‘up’ for this one.
The history: Played 25; Warriors 10, Storm 13, drawn 2. The Storm have five wins and a draw from the past eight games against the Warriors, including a 40-6 shellacking earlier this year right after being informed of their salary cap predicament.
In 12 games at Mt Smart Stadium, the spoils are shared six each. The past two matches combined paint a dim picture for the Warriors, with a score line of 70-6.
Conclusion: The Warriors can really put their name up in lights with a win here and by all rights they should be able to do so. In front of a home crowd and with plenty to play for, they should be the hungrier outfit.
But they also have problems coping with pressure. The Storm will turn up and be ready to play some football and if they are given a sniff of blood they’ll have a party.
The Warriors to win – provided they get off to a strong start.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Adam Gee & Daniel Eastwood; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm (AEST)