Bulldogs v Warriors
Sunday 4pm (NZ)
If you go by what they both produced last week, you couldn’t ask for a more entertaining match-up than this Round 10 clash between the Bulldogs and Warriors at Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium.
Both teams have bruising forward packs who contribute far more than mere yardage gains each week, and have playmakers who know how to post points. In fact the Warriors (36) and Doggies (35) are ranked second and third for the most tries scored in the NRL this season.
The main reason Canterbury lead the competition outright, while the Warriors languish in eleventh, is that the Bulldogs also possess the competition’s most frugal defence, having conceded only 19 four-pointers, in comparison to the New Zealand side’s 35.
Despite their position on the ladder, the Warriors come into this match as one of the form teams. They have won back-to-back games, the last of which, a 54-12 demolition of the Raiders, was their best so far in 2014.
That is reflected in coach Andrew McFadden naming an unchanged line-up for this week.
Canterbury have done very little wrong in the past month-and-a-half, winning six in a row and looking every bit a team that could challenge for the title.
They too have opted for the old “if it ain’t broke” mentality, announcing the same 17 players that beat the Dragons last week. Youngster Moses Mbye is included on a five-man bench.
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Watch Out Bulldogs: The Warriors scored nine tries last week, three of which came from within their own defensive half. Regardless of where they are on the park, they have proven they can punish opposition teams who give them space. The Warriors also had seven players run for over 100 metres in their last outing.
Shaun Johnson seemed to figure out how to tune his kicking radar last week. It is no secret that a key to the Bulldogs’ last victory over the Warriors was goal kicking. The New Zealanders outscored their opponents four tries to three, but where Trent Hodkinson booted a perfect four from four, Johnson nailed just two of his attempts. But if last week is anything to go by, where Johnson kicked nine from nine against the Raiders, the Doggies can’t rely on out-kicking the Warriors this time around.
Watch Out Warriors: Josh Reynolds is playing like a man with his eyes set on sneaking into a NSW Origin jersey. The fiery standoff was among the Bulldogs’ best last week, scoring a spectacular 90-metre intercept try, breaking five tackles and generally troubling the Dragons every time he ran to the line.
The Canterbury pack is on the verge of overtaking their South Sydney counterparts as the most dominant in the NRL. Last week Aiden Tolman, James Graham, Josh Jackson and Tony Williams all ran for over 100 metres, while Dale Finucane also came off the bench to contribute 113. They are about more than just muscle too; Doggies forwards scored or provided the last touch for four tries against the Dragons.
Plays To Watch: As if Johnson wasn’t a big enough threat with the ball in hand, the Warriors look to have mastered incorporating Sam Tomkins into their playmaking arsenal. The English fullback handled the ball on 40 occasions last week, playing a leading role in four Warriors tries and crossing for one himself. Tomkins featured regularly at first receiver against the Raiders, which allowed Shaun Johnson to play wider with more time, a devastating combination for opposing sides.
While for the Dogs, watch for Reynolds to pester the Warriors’ right edge, something he did with success in the last meeting of these two sides. Expect him to direct plenty of traffic towards youngsters Hurrell and Laumape, leaving his pass until the very last minute in an attempt to lure defenders out of the line.
Where It Will Be Won: The forwards from both sides hold the key to winning this one. The Bulldogs rely heavily on second-phase play from their big men in attack, and love to get them involved in the playmaking duties too. The Warriors showed last week what they can do with good go-forward, and it is clear that the explosive plays from Hurrell, Tomkins and Johnson simply can’t happen without the big-boppers dominating the middle first.
The History: Played 31; Bulldogs 17, Warriors 12, drawn 2. It was only a month ago that these two last met, with the Bulldogs prevailing 21-20 thanks to a nail-biting late comeback. This Canterbury ‘home’ game will be the fourth match in a row between these teams on Kiwi soil, with the Bulldogs claiming the last three head-to-head. The two have met at New Zealand venues outside of Auckland on five prior occasions; the Bulldogs winning four and one ending in a draw.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Alan Shortall; Touch Judges – Steve Carrall & Paul Holland; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Luke Patten.
The Way We See It: It couldn’t have been much closer the last time they met, with almost every second of the 80 minutes required for the Bulldogs to edge out the New Zealand side. Canterbury are arguably the best team in the NRL right now, sitting alone at the top of the ladder on a six-game winning streak. The Warriors are a changed team to that which faced the Bulldogs a month ago, but you can’t go against the form and talent the men from Belmore are displaying right now. Bulldogs by four points.