Greg Prichard, , NRL.com
Warriors v Knights
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 4pm (2pm Sydney)
It is going to be interesting to see what the Warriors produce in this one. Coming off a humiliating 62-6 thrashing at the hands of the Panthers, you would expect them to react to the embarrassment by lifting the effort dramatically and producing a much better performance. If they don’t at least do that, you would have to think there is little or no hope for them this season.
The Warriors were pathetic against the Panthers. They had only won two of their nine games before that, but they had at least shown regular signs of what they were capable of doing. They just hadn’t been putting it together for 80 minutes. Against the Panthers, they were gone from the start.
The Knights were embarrassed themselves two rounds back, when they lost 44-14 to the Raiders. But, unlike the Warriors against the Panthers, the Knights were at least in the game for a while. They actually led 14-0, before being run over. But it is how you respond that matters, and last weekend the Knights reacted the right way by thrashing the Bulldogs 44-8.
It will help the Knights here that they will be wary of the Warriors possibly improving considerably, since they have just done the same thing themselves. Kevin Locke returns at fullback for the Warriors, with Glen Fisiiahi dropping to a seven-man bench. Dane Nielsen returns to the centres, with Carlos Tuimavave going to the bench. Sam Rapira rises from the bench to start, with Ben Matulino dropping back to the bench.
Akuila Uate returns on the wing for the Knights, with Kevin Naiqama dropping to what is a five-man bench.
Watch Out Warriors: Look for heads to roll if they don’t compete here. You’ve always got to take the strengths of the opposition into account when you prepare for a game, but the main work the Warriors would be doing this week is on themselves. It would surely be very physical at training, and a bit of ‘having a good look at yourself in the mirror’ time wouldn’t hurt either.
Watch Out Knights: They will be warned to start strongly, and not give the Warriors any more encouragement than they would already have to perform. If the Knights are slow out of the boxes and the Warriors manage to do some good things and get to the lead early, then the self-belief will start returning to the players who were beaten so badly by the Panthers.
Plays To Watch: Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson didn’t like it when he got replaced eight minutes into the second half against the Panthers. Who would? If he’s made of the right stuff, he’ll be fully committed to delving into his bag of tricks and producing some terrific set-up and support plays here.
Jarrod Mullen is the man of the moment for the Knights. His short- and long-passing games and his pin-point kicking are creating plenty of try-scoring opportunities for the outside backs.
Key Match-Up: Willie Mason has always got plenty to say, but he is backing it up with performances for the Knights. Mason and Kade Snowden squaring off against Sam Rapira and Russell Packer in the starting props department will be pretty intense for them, but a lot of fun for the rest of us to watch.
Where It Will Be Won: This is going to be a real ‘mind’ game. If the Warriors have given themselves a good talking to, and really do want to make up for their disgrace from last weekend, then they can. They’ve got what it takes to win this, if they commit for 80 minutes.
The Knights have got to realise that a week is a long time in football, and that the Warriors they face on Sunday could be a totally different Warriors to those who faced the Panthers. That would be a good start for them.
The History: Played 29; Knights 15, Warriors 13, drawn 1.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Luke Phillips; Sideline officials – Nick Beashel & Michael Wise; Video referees – Jason Robinson & Justin Morgan.
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Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 4pm (Auckland), 2pm (Sydney).
The Way We See It: How can you tip the Warriors? Seriously, how can you tip them? Sure, teams have the potential to improve dramatically after they have been embarrassed beyond belief, but until the Warriors show us some genuine stuff on a regular basis there is no alternative but to avoid them. Knights by 10 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats