Warriors v Wests Tigers
Saturday 3pm (AEDT)
Both of these teams shocked the competition last week with unexpected victories, the Tigers making it look easy for the most part against the Rabbitohs and the Warriors having to fight for every second of their win over the Cowboys.
The sides are perfectly matched over their 14-year history, with 11 wins apiece.
But the Tigers head to Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on Saturday night with more momentum on their side: in their past two matches they have scored 67 points and conceded only 28, using outright speed as their weapon of choice.
For the Warriors, despite the ugly nature of their last-up win, it was the type of backs-to-the-wall performance which they desperately needed.
After being called out by coach Matt Elliott for their lack of will in Round 2, the New Zealand club showed plenty at 1300SMILES Stadium, repeatedly repelling the Cowboys from close range.
The only change for the Tigers is a forced one – Cory Paterson coming in for Liam Fulton who is missing after suffering a second concussion for 2014.
Former Junior Warrior James Gavet can think himself lucky to be coming up against his old mates this weekend though, escaping suspension following his ugly kneeing of George Burgess while trying to effect a tackle.
The big news for the Warriors is the return of Kiwi international Thomas Leuluai from a long injury lay-off. Chad Townsend keeps his spot at five-eighth however, with Leuluai named on the bench.
Sione Lousi comes in to start at lock, with Feleti Mateo out due to a knee injury. Konrad Hurrell is named on the bench for the second week in a row.
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Watch Out Warriors: Veteran winger Pat Richards is back in the NRL and boy is he making his presence felt! Richards has been fantastic in general play, clocking up five line breaks and crossing for four tries in the opening three matches, as well as having two denied by the video ref last week.
Also, his ability to make every kick-off a towering 50/50 contest provides his side with a good chance of obtaining extra possession.
The Warriors have an awful record at venues in New Zealand away from their traditional home at Mt Smart Stadium. They have played 16 games for only two wins and a draw, a winning percentage of just 12.5 per cent. They need to run out and imagine they are several hundred kilometres north.
Watch Out Tigers: Last week the Warriors' big boys seemed to find their mojo, with Sam Rapira, Simon Mannering and Jacob Lillyman all running for more than 100 metres. The Tigers' forward pack will need to meet that physicality head-on, something they didn’t have any issue with against the Rabbitohs.
Konrad Hurrell is back, and he looks angry. After spending the first two weeks of the season in the Warriors' NSW Cup side, due to a waistline which grew a little too much for Elliott’s liking over the off-season, Hurrell made a try-scoring comeback against the Cowboys. Just another huge human the Tigers have to worry about on Saturday night.
Plays To Watch: Luke Brooks to James Tedesco, and vice versa, is a combination that will strike and score on you before you even know what has happened. The two youngsters are in fine form, and despite playing just a handful of games together, are linking like seasoned pros.
Meanwhile hooker Nathan Friend’s flat ball close to the line proved popular for the Warriors last week. Given the size of the home team's pack, a good ball close to the line will end in a try more often than not.
Where It Will be Won: Explosive backs are in no shortage when these two teams are around, and it is likely the game will centre on their involvement. Both sides rely on their big backlines to make metres for them early in tackle counts.
With swirling wind never far away in Wellington, the high ball will be a popular play too. Whoever can best defend this and take advantage of their opportunities on attack will likely take home the two competition points.
The History: Played 22; Warriors 11, Tigers 11. The ledger is perfectly balanced, with the Warriors having the last laugh in 2013 with a 24-14 victory. The New Zealanders continue to hold the biggest bragging rights, having knocked the Tigers out of the 2011 finals series with a last minute 22-20 win.
What Are The Odds: This looms as the biggest upset of the round according to Sportsbet.com.au, with 95 per cent of money coming for the Tigers, who have firmed from $2.80 to $2.60. There has been no interest at all in the Warriors who have drifted from $1.30 to $1.45.
The Way We See It: The Warriors showed guts last week, travelling to North Queensland and coming away with the points, producing plenty of goal-line stands which any club in the competition would be proud of. Confidence is everything to this team, and they will have gained plenty of it from that performance.
You can’t ignore the form of the Tigers, convincing against a poor Titans team two weeks ago and impressive against former competition favourites the Rabbitohs last Friday.
But maybe, just maybe, the Warriors turned a corner last week. It will be close, with plenty of points scored and the Warriors winning by four.
*Statistics: Champion Data.
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