Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 2pm NZ Time
If the Warriors are to make a miraculous run to the finals in 2009 they must prove they are the real deal right now, against a St George Illawarra side that is flying and on course for its maiden minor premiership as a joint venture.
With 30 competition points being touted as the key number for a finals berth the Warriors cannot afford slip-ups in the run home. In fact they just about need to win every match as they are currently in 12th spot on just 17 points.
Proving their worth starts right here as they host the co-competition-leading Dragons, who have already reached the magic 30 but who have designs on much higher numbers.
The Warriors enter the clash having beaten the struggling Roosters but they are well aware it will take a serious uplift in form to compete with St George Illawarra.
The side welcome back captain Steve Price (who sat out last week’s game courtesy of Brett White’s Origin right hook), which sees Russell Packer move back to the bench.
Exciting young rookie Kevin Locke also returns on the wing with Patrick Ah Van moving to the bench and Ben Matulino is slated to start in the second row with Jacob Lillyman joining the reserves list which currently has six men.
The Dragons, who come into the clash fresh off their second and final bye, haven’t tasted defeat since Round 13. Their last hit-out was a pummelling of Manly without their Origin stars which means there are several changes for this clash.
Darius Boyd returns at fullback with Jason Nightingale out with a broken hand (Round 24). Michael Lett comes out of the side also with Brett Morris moving from centre to wing, Beau Scott moving from second row to centre and Ben Creagh returning in the back row.
Props Justin Poore and Michael Weyman are also due to return, which sees Dan Hunt and Jon Green revert to the bench.
Chase Stanley also makes way out of the back row, allowing Dean Young to move from lock to the second row and Neville Costigan to return at lock.
Matt Prior and Jeremy Smith have been named on the bench to return from injury although they are on a seven-man reserves list.
Trent Merrin and Nick Emmett have missed the cut for the trip across the Tasman.
Watch out Warriors: The tandem prop pairing of Michael Weyman and Justin Poore are due back for the Dragons and if they are allowed to dictate play the Warriors will not be able to dominate field position.
Poore is averaging 119 metres a match and Weyman is slightly better at 121 a game. While Warrior Steve Price gains 157 a match it is the back-to-back charges of the Dragons pair that causes the major damage.
The Warriors’ defenders must get up in the Dragons bookends’ faces and cut down their momentum otherwise they will be constantly back-pedalling – and the Dragons halves and outside backs have shown how deadly they can be if given space against a retreating defence.
Watch out Dragons: One Warrior who has joined the side in recent times and has shown some great promise is second-rower Lewis Brown. Brown is a real workhorse and has shown an ability to break the line (three line breaks, 30 tackle breaks and two tries) so the Dragons would be wise not to underestimate his contribution.
In terms of tackle breaks it was also revealed this week that fullback Wade McKinnon is seventh in the NRL with 78 and Ian Henderson and Lance Hohaia are top performers in their respective positions in terms of the statistic.
Where it will be won: They say the game of rugby league can be all about the one percenters… the little, simple parts of the game that are crucial but so easy to take shortcuts on. This game will be won by the side that is prepared to stay committed to the little things.
One of those is kick-chase and it is here the Warriors really need to lift as they are taking on the best in the business.
Official NRL statistics count the number of times a team provides a ‘good chase’ to their kicks and the Dragons are streeting the field with 111 for the season. This means they are constantly turning up as a brick wall in defence and taking control of the set of six by dominating the first tackle.
The Warriors on the other hand have just 47 good chases for the season – the least of any side in the competition – and considering the Dragons’ back three are the most prolific metre-eaters and have by far the most line breaks from kick returns in the competition, the home side will face considerable pain if they don’t turn up with a more committed attitude.
The Warriors will be hoping the Dragons are a little jetlagged but they will also need to be better than they have been thus far this year.
The history: Played 14; Warriors 4, Dragons 10. The Dragons prevailed in a close one earlier this season by 12-11, which was a game the Warriors really should have claimed. It makes it six from the past seven for the Red V over the Warriors – although the one clash the Warriors claimed was the last match between the teams at Mt Smart Stadium in 2007. In the six total matches between the teams at the Auckland venue the honours are shared three apiece.
Conclusion: The Dragons are the smart tip here as they are just playing beautiful clinical football. But one gets the feeling they will have a loss somewhere in the run home and coming off a bye and a draining Origin series, maybe this road trip could provide the slip-up.
The Warriors will have to be much better than we have seen all year but they are a chance of an upset. If you sense one, here is a chance to go for it. But the Dragons are still the team to beat.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.