Warriors v Roosters
Mount Smart Stadium
Sunday, 2pm (NZT)
If you are a Warriors fan this storyline seems all too familiar: As a season of fluctuating fortunes approaches the finish and the finals are in sight, somehow the New Zealand side manages to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory in crucial matches.
Last week’s 28-22 loss to the 14th-placed Knights means the Warriors probably need to win two of their remaining three games to have any chance of making the top eight.
That makes this Sunday’s clash against the Roosters at Mount Smart Stadium a virtual must-win, but they will need more than just desperation if they are to get over a Roosters side who are brimming with confidence following three-straight victories.
The most recent of those was a 48-4 flogging of the Tigers on the road last Saturday, where the Roosters showed why they might just have what it takes to make it back-to-back grand final appearances.
With three games to go in the season Sydney can edge closer to guaranteeing a top-four finish if they win this week, while their opponents continue to cling to a play-off berth by the thinnest of margins.
The injury toll softens for the Kiwis this week, with the welcome return of centre Konrad Hurrell into a backline which has been well down on its attacking best the past two weeks.
With Hurrell’s return Ben Henry shifts to the back row, with Sebastian Ikahihifo returning at lock after being dropped from the squad last week.
The Roosters’ settled line-up reflects how well they are playing right now, but having lost first-choice hookers Jake Friend and Heath L'Estrange, coach Trent Robinson has been forced to start Mitchell Aubusson in the No.9 jersey.
Rémi Casty joins a five-man bench this week, which also includes highly regarded youngster Jackson Hastings.
Sunday represents a homecoming for several Kiwi stars, with six of the Roosters’ 17 returning to their country of birth to face the Warriors.
Watch Out Warriors: An uncharacteristic slow start meant the Warriors’ late charge was all in vain last week against the Knights. If they crawl out of the gates that slowly on Sunday against a quality side like the Roosters it will be a long road back. The Warriors play best when they start well, and it is no coincidence that prior to last week they had scored a try in the opening 10 minutes of their last six games, winning four of them.
In leaking 28 points at Hunter Stadium last up the Warriors equalled the most points they have conceded in a game since way back in Round 13, and easily exceeded their season points against average of 19. The Kiwis also missed over 10 per cent of their 260 tackles and allowed 13 offloads which repeatedly put them under pressure and forced them to expend valuable energy scrambling back on defence.
Watch Out Roosters: While they couldn’t string it together for the full 80 last week, the Warriors were brilliant on attack for selected periods against the Knights. Between the 34th and 42nd minute they piled on three tries and looked completely in control of the game before a penalty swung momentum back to their opponents. Similarly in the final 10 minutes, and with the game on the line, the Warriors got over for two tries and managed to go end-to-end with the ball in hand, showcasing just how powerful they can be.
Something big, angry and impossible to avoid will be waiting for the Bondi boys when they touch down in Auckland. His name is Konrad Hurrell and he will be looking to make up for lost time after sitting out the last two games with a hamstring injury. The Tongan wrecking ball is averaging 114 metres per game this year and has a try in seven on his last eight games.
Opposite number Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s job got a lot more difficult the second Hurrell was named to make his return.
Plays To Watch: The Sydney forward pack features three of the best Kiwi big men going around in Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Frank-Paul Nu'uausala and Sam Moa. All three will be pumped to return ‘home’ this Sunday and you can expect plenty of fireworks in the middle of the park, with bragging rights as well as the two competition points on offer at Mount Smart Stadium.
The presence of quality halves and athletic wingers in both these sides suggests quality last-tackle plays are a given. While Manu Vatuvei and Daniel Tupou can pluck a ball from the heavens with ease, their mates on the other side of the ball, David Fusitu’a and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, are fleet-footed and can finish in the tightest of spaces. These blokes actually make watching the video referee decisions enjoyable.
Where It Will Be Won: So much of the damage these sides do starts with their back-rowers, who have a potent combination of power, speed and vision. Edge defence will be crucial this Sunday, and the team who can best close down the offloads and half breaks out wide will probably end up on top.
Expect the middle to be decided in torrid fashion, with the big men from both sides holding the key to freeing up their dynamic mates in the backline. Last week four Roosters forwards ran for over 100 metres, and the likes of Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino and Suaia Matagi will need to be at their defensive best to stop the Sydney onslaught.
The History: Played 32; Warriors 18, Roosters 13, drawn 1. Clashes between these two have been close things over recent years, with the last three games decided by margins of 11 points or less. The Roosters have a slight edge across the past five meetings with three victories, but prior to that the New Zealanders enjoyed a five-game winning streak which stretched back to the 2008 season.
What Are The Odds:
The Warriors opened as $1.67 favourites but a steady stream of support from Sportsbet customers for the Roosters will see them start favourites in this game. Roosters 13+ seems to be the most popular margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Shayne Hayne; Assistant Referee – Dave Munro; Touch Judges; Jeff Younis and Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Steve Clark and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports - Live 12pm (AET).
The Way We See It: The Roosters seem to have finally found their mojo on a consistent basis in 2014, and last week looked unstoppable against a depleted Tigers outfit. The Warriors on the other hand are dropping off at the wrong end of the season, and they will be viewing Sunday’s clash against a top-four opponent as make or break for their 2014 hopes. In games like this it only takes something small to tilt the advantage one way, and home ground advantage might just get the Warriors over the line in a tough and grinding affair. Warriors by four.