Steven Ross, North Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Warriors v Bulldogs
Eden Park, Auckland
Sunday, 4pm (NZ)
Another week and another new era for the Warriors under a different coach.
Early Monday morning Matt Elliott packed up his office and former assistant Andrew McFadden was called to face the media as the new acting head coach. Coming off the back of a 37-6 beating at the hands of the Sharks last week, McFadden has made wholesale changes for this Sunday’s clash against the Bulldogs at Eden Park.
Off-season recruit Chad Townsend is out, replaced at five-eighth by Kiwi international Thomas Leuluai. Despite being one of the club’s highest paid players, Feleti Mateo also finds himself playing NSW Cup this week, with Sebastine Ikahihifo starting at loose forward.
The team’s leading try scorer, Glen Fisiiahi, will miss the match with a shoulder injury, in his place starts Ngani Laumape. Hooker Siliva Havili will make his NRL debut, joined by Charlie Gubb and David Bhana on an extended bench. Former Gold Coast Titan Dominique Peyroux rounds up the numerous ins and outs list.
The Bulldogs preparation has been much less dramatic. The only change to their side following a gritty 9-8 victory over the defending premier Roosters last week is a forced one, with Mitch Brown coming on to the wing in the place of the injured Chase Stanley, while Frank Pritchard and Moses Mbye have been named on an extended bench.
Their forward pack in particular was outstanding against the Roosters, with five of them - Aiden Tolman, James Graham, Tony Williams, Dale Finucane and Tim Browne - running for more than 100 metres on a rain-soaked pitch. In fashion typical of a Des Hasler-coached side, the Bulldogs are more than happy to play patiently and will back themselves to outlast the Warriors.
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Josh Reynolds did everything but drive the team bus for the Dogs last week, influencing the game on both sides of the ball with his enthusiasm and toughness. His try-saving tackle on Daniel Tupou on 56 minutes was huge, before he kicked the winning field goal a short time later. The feisty-five eighth is in great touch.
The Bulldogs have not conceded more than 18 points in a game this season. The Warriors, discounting their 42-18 drubbing of the Tigers, have scored only 13.5 on average.Watch Out Bulldogs:
The new coach factor is real and historically has spurred teams on to better performances, at least temporarily. If rumours of a rift between Elliott and the playing group were true then the Warriors could lift under their new mentor.
Jacob Lillyman was strong once again for the Warriors last week, running for 149 metres and making 28 tackles in a badly beaten side. The boost he provides off the interchange bench can hurt opposition teams, he just needs a few more of his mates to follow suit.
Get your ticket to NRL Round 6Plays To Watch:
Much has been made about the Bulldogs lack of a recognised fullback but former Kiwi international Sam Perrett is well and truly getting the job done so far. Watch for him to chime into the backline off Reynolds, a move they scored off last week and will bring out again at Eden Park against a team with fragile fringe defence.
Look for the Warriors to provide plenty of early ball to powerhouse runners Konrad Hurrell and Laumape, in an attempt to break down the Dogs’ line. It won’t be easy though, neither of the Canterbury centres missed a tackle last week.Where It Will Be Won:
Defence wins premierships and it will probably win this Round 6 match as well. The competition’s best defensive side travel to take on the worst and for Canterbury, it’s a matter of sticking by the formula which has been successful so far.
The men from Belmore are conceding only two tries and 18 missed tackles on average. They are hard to break open too, having let through only 16 line breaks all season. In stark contrast, the Warriors are missing 29 tackles a game and have let in more tries than any other team in the NRL, with 25.The History:
Played 30; Warriors 12, Bulldogs 16; Drawn 2. Stretching way back to July 2006 these teams have a neat two-win, two-loss pattern going on against each other. If you go by that then it is the Warriors turn to win, having lost their previous two matches against the Dogs, 24-16 in Wellington last year and 32-18 at Mt Smart Stadium in 2012. Canterbury have played the Warriors at New Zealand venues away from Mt Smart on five occasions, winning four and drawing one. Heading to Eden Park then will hold little fear for Michael Ennis and company.What Are The Odds: The Bulldogs are the best backed
side of Round 6 with Sportsbet.com.au – money six to one in favour of Canterbury who firm from $1.93 into
$1.77. The Warriors are friendless and have moved out to $2.02.
Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Touch Judges – Jason Walsh & Jon Stone; Video Referees – Ashley Klein & Ben Galea.The Way We See It:
It’s very tempting to follow the popular, yet not so scientific method of tipping for the Warriors; back them when no-one expects them to win and go against them when everyone thinks they are sure things. However, the Bulldogs showed enough last week to suggest they are the real deal this season and their staunch defence should be enough to hold the Warriors out, even if the Kiwi side are improved under their new coach. The home ground advantage is non-existent for the Warriors given they have never won at Eden Park and the Bulldogs have all the momentum. Canterbury by 14.