Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com
Warriors v Raiders
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday, 5pm (NZ)
For two teams outside the top eight and battling to push into finals contention, it’s now or never.
For the Warriors, it’s been an outstanding effort to even get this close – they started the year with eight losses from their opening 10 matches. Since then, though, they’ve won eight of their past 12 clashes, including claiming two vital points against the Gold Coast in Queensland. In 11th place on for and against – and on 24 competition points, shared by teams running eighth through 12th – they’re near enough if they’re good enough.
Also still in the hunt are the Raiders in 12th position after 10 wins this season. It’s been a patchy year for the Green Machine – they’ve never really got going. Just when you think they’re about to string some wins together, their form bottoms out. And it hasn’t got much better as we near crunch time, either – Canberra are on a crippling four-match losing streak, and another loss here will end everything.
It’s been a dramatic two weeks for the Raiders, with coach David Furner axed, and brilliant back Blake Ferguson seemingly on the outer, too. Who knows how they’ll respond now, following their loss to the Sea Eagles last week and having had a chance to think about their future without Ferguson and under interim coach Andrew Dunemann.
The Warriors take an unchanged line-up into this clash following their victory against the Titans last week. Prop Sam Rapira will become the ninth player to make 150 NRL appearances for the Warriors when he lines up against Canberra. Ngani Laumape has been named in jersey No.18.
The Raiders have made several changes, with captain Terry Campese back after he was cleared by his eye specialist to resume training and playing. Campese’s return sees Josh McCrone move from the halves into hooker, with Glen Buttriss starting from the interchange bench. Joel Thompson shifts to the centres, with Bill Tupou moving onto the wing for Sandor Earl, who has been ruled out (hamstring). Paul Vaughan has been named at lock, with Joel Edwards set to start in the second row.
After being a late withdrawal from last weekend’s match Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has been named on the bench. The other inclusion for the Raiders is forward Jake Foster, with Matt McIlwrick named 18th man. The club is yet to make a decision on the availability of Blake Ferguson – officially, at least.
Watch Out Warriors: Poor attitude – and completion – is killing the Kiwi-based side’s 2013 season. The Warriors have been plagued by another hot-and-cold season – and statistics show if they drop the ball and commit basic errors in matches they don’t have the ability to overcome them. In 2013, they’ve been defeated in four of the five matches they’ve made 12 errors or more. Quite simply, if they drop the ball regularly in this one, their 2013 campaign is as good as over.
Watch Out Raiders: Canberra hate travelling – they’ve won just two of 11 matches outside the nation’s capital in 2013. They score an average of just 13 points away from home… and concede more than 26 points! Even more worryingly, the Warriors have won seven of their past nine home matches against the Green Machine.
Plays To Watch: The Warriors need to get ball to beefy centre Konrad Hurrell – and the Raiders need to stop him. ‘Konnie’ gave the Titans the ‘kiss of death’ last week with a brilliant solo four-pointer that left Dave Taylor and David Mead clutching at nothing but air. Look for the Warriors to direct plenty of ball to Hurrell’s side of the field! He’s already recorded 13 tries, 14 line-breaks and five line-break assists in 18 games this season.
Key Match-Up: ‘The Beast’ Manu Vatuvei up against Bill Tupou should be as entertaining as it is pivotal. Both big wingers, former teammates up against each other for the first time, will be targeted by their opponents – Tupou’s made nine errors in a year that’s seen him switch from the Warriors to the Raiders; the enigmatic Vatuvei has committed 19 in just 17 matches. But the biggest battle should be when – and if – they come running into each other. Raiders coach Dunemann has indicated he wants Tupou marking Vatuvei. Sounds good to us!
Where It Will Be Won: Shaun Johnson up against Anthony Milford. One’s a Kiwi star on the rise – a player who wants to become the best halfback in the game – the other’s regarded as the hottest prospect in the NRL.
Johnson has become a steadier proposition in 2013 – a more comfortable general – who still possesses a deadly running game. Milford, on the other hand, hasn’t started in the NRL at halfback, though that’s where he’s been selected this week with Josh McCrone shifted to No.9.
Milford, who’s spent most time at fullback and last week played at five-eighth (and scored a great solo try), will need to mix his high-class light-stepping running game with ball-playing and team-organisation tasks.
Whatever happens, at least one of these two will make the highlights reel – and help their team to two crucial competition points.
The History: Played 29; Raiders 17, Warriors 12.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Chris Butler; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Warriors v Raiders clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
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Televised: Live – Fox Sports 1 (3pm AEST).
The Way We See It: With more attacking strike-power out wide and their home fans cheering them on, we can’t see the Warriors getting beaten here. It should be a thriller with both teams’ seasons on the line, though. The home side by four points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.