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Paul Young fills in for Freddie at the Roosters

Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 2pm NZ Time

SUNDAY afternoon football comes alive in Auckland with two inconsistent sides coming together, desperate to find some solid form to build into the meat of the season.

Both the Warriors and the Roosters have scratched together two wins so far but suffered three losses, which leaves them in 9th and 10th respectively on the NRL ladder.

The Warriors have the slightest of advantages thanks to a -14 differential compared to the Roosters’ -18.

However, they have suffered three straight losses, giving them anything but form going into this clash. After starting the year looking solid with wins over Parramatta and Manly, the Warriors have slumped against Brisbane, South Sydney and Newcastle.

The Roosters have been loss-win all season thus far, losing to South Sydney, beating Canberra, losing to the Wests Tigers, beating Parramatta and then losing to Brisbane last week.

On a positive note they did finish strongly against the Broncos, something they could potentially build on as they head over the Tasman for the first time since being knocked out of last year’s finals series at the hands of the Warriors.

The home side have lost fullback Wade McKinnon to injury, with Patrick Ah Van moving from centre to the custodian role.

Aidan Kirk moves from the wing to centre and ‘The Beast’ Manu Vatuvei returns from injury on the wing.

Captain and prop Steve Price also returns from injury, pushing Russell Packer to the bench, while Ukuma Ta’ai makes way for Aaron Heremaia.

For the Roosters, Sia Soliola has been added as an extra man on the bench but otherwise the team stays as per last round’s 28-24 loss to Brisbane.

Watch out Warriors: For years the Warriors have been known as a physical side, with a dominating forward pack – but that is shifting away now they have toilers like Jacob Lillyman, Steve Price and Micheal Luck.

As such, the Warriors currently have the least amount of dominant tackles in the NRL, with just 66, and they are coming up against a Roosters side who has reeled off 136 dominant tackles to be ranked fourth in the competition.

If the home side is beaten in the ruck constantly, it will be infinitely harder for the likes of Stacey Jones, Joel Moon and Nathan Fien to get the attack firing on all cylinders.

Watch out Roosters: They’re back! ‘The Beast’ Manu Vatuvei and inspirational leader Steve Price return to the Warriors’ side – just when they desperately need them.

Price has been averaging 156 metres a game, making his absence felt tenfold, while Vatuvei gives the Warriors some real attacking firepower out wide. In just two games this year he averages 102 metres, has a line break, a try and a try assist. There is no doubt, that with quality ball, he will most likely add to these stats.

The only way to stop the big unit having an influence is to get into his psyche. In the past he has wilted when his confidence is down, but it’s been almost 12 months since he had one of his old meltdowns, which is bad news for the Roosters.

Where it will be won: Kick defence. Both sides are having problems with attacking kicks at this early stage of the season and the side who can move to rectify this in this match will be heading home with two competition points.

The Roosters have conceded more tries to kicks than any other side, having let seven past them so far, while the Warriors don’t fare much better with five conceded.

The kick of choice for both sides may well be the grubber, considering the Warriors are only defusing 44 per cent of them successfully to be ranked last in the NRL, while the Roosters are only shutting down 58 per cent to be the second-worst side.

The Roosters also have issues with cross-field kicks, bringing down just 57 per cent – but that is light years ahead of the home side, who have yet to defuse a single cross kick. That’s correct: they are at 0 per cent success rate and as such can expect it to be raining footballs.

The History: Played 23; Warriors 12, Roosters 10, drawn 1. The Warriors have won four and drawn one of the past six matches between the two sides. At Mt Smart Stadium the home side holds a 7-4 advantage; however the Roosters did win in Auckland during the regular season last year.

Conclusion: The Roosters will fly into Auckland looking for some revenge from last season’s finals series loss in the same city – but they won’t have it all their own way.

If we are to go by their erratic form they are due a win but the Warriors surely won’t slump to four straight… will they? The return of Price will ensure there is some extra pride in performance and one expects they’ll work out the kinks in the armour sooner rather than later.

There really is no way of knowing which sides will turn up. Will the Warriors of the opening two rounds return? Will the Roosters be like they were against the Bunnies, dismal, or will they be like they were against Parramatta, gritty.

Does anyone out there have a crystal ball? If so please forward your predictions to…

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Jeff Younis; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 12pm AEST.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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