Warriors v Dragons
Saturday, 5pm (NZDT)
Contrast doesn’t come much more neatly presented than this.
On one side of this Members' Round clash you have the Dragons, blistering in their first outing of the year, piling on the points to beat the Tigers 44-24. On the other you have the Warriors, tripped up by their own defensive frailties which saw them on the wrong side of a 20-point buffer against the Eels, going down 36-16 at Pirtek Stadium.
The Warriors, much-vaunted after an off-season highlighted by the signing of Sam Tomkins and a 48-4 thumping of the Broncos, trailed by just two points heading into the break last week but produced a second-half performance straight out of one of coach Matt Elliott’s worst nightmares.
It was a different story for the Dragons, a team many picked to be wooden spoon contenders and the first to sack their coach in 2014. They scored four second-half tries and conceded just one in their victory.
Carlos Tuimavave is replaced by veteran Jerome Ropati in the troubled right centre spot for the Warriors. Ben Henry is added to a five-man bench in the only other change to the squad for the Eden Park clash.
The Dragons lose halfback Michael Witt to a dislocated shoulder and he is replaced by Sam Williams, who will make his club debut after coming across from the Raiders.
Former Kiwi international Bronson Harrison comes in for Jack de Belin, who will miss Saturday’s game with a leg cork.
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Watch Out Warriors: Tyson Frizell was a late call-up to start in the forward pack last week and proved too hot for the Tigers to contain. A handful of both tackle and line breaks went nicely with his two tries.
The fact that he’s a worker too, last year averaging 80 metres and 21 tackles per match, is seeing him fast become an NRL Fantasy favourite.
The New Zealand side will have to improve their defence drastically if they are any chance against the Dragons. Last week they missed 10 per cent of their tackles.
Watch Out Dragons: Warriors Prop Suaia Matagi averaged 76.1 metres per game in limited minutes last year. The big bopper knows how to get the crowd back into the match with a destructive run or a crucial first tackle hit up, too.
Manu Vatuvei just loves scoring tries at home. He crossed for a total of 16 in just 19 games in 2013. Nine of them came on Kiwi soil, including a double against the Sharks in Round 21 and a spectacular hat-trick in the final home match against the Raiders.
Plays To Watch: Sam Tomkins had an NRL debut he would probably rather forget, throwing a wayward ball on his first touch and generally seeming to struggle with the physical nature.
But there can be no doubting the English fullback’s quality and his runs off the shoulders of offload-happy players such as Ben Matulino and Shaun Johnson will be a highlight reel producer’s dream. Watch for the slightly built No.1 to pop up in open space – from there anything is possible.
Where It Will Be Won: Both of these teams are capable of scoring points and after last weekend’s results, where they conceded a combined 11 tries and 60 points, we know they can leak them just as fast. With that in mind the team who can restrict their errors is likely to win this one.
The Kiwi side produced nine mistakes and just as many penalties against the Eels, often compounding one with the other and marching their opposition right to the try line with no effort.
Meanwhile Steve Price, despite his side’s big win, will ask for an improvement on last week’s slow start, which saw them concede twice in the opening 10 minutes.
The History: Played 20; Dragons 16, Warriors 4. The form guide between these two teams makes for ugly reading if you are a Warriors fan. The New Zealand side has not tasted success over this week’s rivals since 2008 and in that time they have had eight consecutive losses to the Red V.
What Are The Odds: Most bookies have quickly forgotten the Warriors' heavy defeat to the Eels; Sportsbet.com.au have installed them as the shortest-priced team of all this week at $1.28. The punters have responded and money is coming in at the rate of four to one for the Kiwis. Despite their confidence-boosting win, the Red V are rank outsiders at $3.65 and are friendless in early betting.
Match Officials: Referees - Jared Maxwell & Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials - Dan Eastwood & Chris Sutton; Video Referees - Steve Clark & Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 - Live 3pm (AEDT)
The Way We See It: It’s tough to go against the Dragons. They come in off the back of a 20-point victory, playing a team who lost by that same margin last week. But the Warriors are a different beast at home and showed last year that they don’t dwell on poor starts to the season, bouncing back from a thrashing to challenge the Roosters in an eventual 16-14 week-two loss.
They didn’t display it any shape or form last week, but the Warriors have a quality roster which should see them edge the Dragons out by four points.
*Statistics: Champion Data.
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