Warriors v Raiders Preview

Dave Furner's match preview
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Warriors v Raiders
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday, 2pm

This game has the indignity of being the only game of the round that has no bearing on this year’s NRL finals (or even the wooden spoon).

Round 24 has been labelled ‘Destiny Round’ but for both twelfth-placed Canberra and the thirteenth-placed Warriors, their fate was decided weeks ago – neither team will take part in September action.

But while the seven other games contain hardened teams jostling for positions in September, the Warriors and Raiders are free from the pressure of finals footy which could result in an open, entertaining footy game.

After storming into last year’s preliminary finals, the Warriors have turned from pre-season contenders to arguably the year’s biggest disappointments, appearing to struggle to adapt to the faster pace of play in 2009. Last week’s 40-4 capitulation at the hands of the resurgent Eels extended their losing streak to four, with the team looking bereft of ideas and inspiration.

The Raiders, meanwhile, showed what can happen when a team is relieved of the burden of a top-eight finish with an impressive 24-12 over competition heavyweights St George Illawarra. The upset of the year has no doubt provided long video sessions for other premiership contenders on how to beat Wayne Bennett’s men.

Coach Dave Furner and his charges will take plenty of confidence from the victory and will look to carry that form over to Auckland.

Canberra were dealt a huge blow this week when prop Scott Logan was ruled out for the rest of the year with a fractured cheekbone. Joel Thompson will take his place in the forward pack after a stint in the centres last week, while NSW representative Joel Monaghan makes his return in the centres.

For the Warriors, captain Steve Price comes back after three weeks out with a rib injury, with Evarn Tuimavave going back to the bench while centre Jerome Ropati replaces last week’s debutant Siuatonga Likiliki.

Brent Tate (knee, season) and Jesse Royal (ribs, indefinite) remain sidelined for the hosts.

David Milne (groin, indefinite), Justin Carney (leg, season), Nigel Plum (ankle, Rd 25), Marc Herbert and David Shillington are still out for the visitors.

Watch out Raiders: The Warriors aren’t the best attacking team in the competition, averaging 15.4 points a game – only the troubled Sharks post less (14.7). What the New Zealanders boast, however, is an ability to break tackles. As a team, the Warriors average 37.1 tackle breaks a game – the most in the competition.

Fullback Wade McKinnon leads the way with 102 tackle breaks, while utility Lance Hohaia has 81 and monster winger Manu Vatuvei has 71.

But the Raiders are up there with some of the best defences in the competition. The Green Machine average just 27.5 missed tackles a game – premiership favourites Melbourne (27) and the Dragons (27.4) are only just ahead of them.

Watch out Warriors: Since they were bundled out of finals contention the Raiders have flipped the switch in attack, posting 33.3 points a game in the past three weeks. Only the fast-finishing Eels have averaged more in the same period (36.7).

Canberra’s back three of Josh Dugan, Daniel Vidot and Phil Graham have been in sensational form and have given Raiders fans plenty of hope for the future. Dugan, 19, has been the pick of the bunch, averaging 20 metres more per game than any other player in the NRL (188.2 metres). Fellow teenager Vidot has scored five tries in five games, while Graham has also crossed five times in his past three games.

Perhaps the Warriors should take a leaf out of Canberra’s ‘Dragons blueprint’ and deliberately kick the ball out to limit the effectiveness of Canberra’s trio of speedsters.

Where it will be won: The first 20 minutes. The Warriors concede more points than any other team in the first quarters of games and should they give a confident Raiders team a handy lead early, then chances are plenty more points will follow.

Given the Warriors’ lack of effort in the past few weeks, should their minds not be on the job early in the game, this could turn really ugly really fast for the home fans. The equation can’t be simple enough for Steve Price and his team: turn up or cop a belting.

The history: Played 23; Raiders 13, Warriors 10. Canberra have won three of their past four against the Warriors, including a 38-12 spanking in May when the New Zealand side was held scoreless in the second half.

But the Warriors have won the past four clashes at Mt Smart Stadium, a stat that may give Ivan Cleary and his men a much-needed boost in order to halt their worrying streak of losses.

Conclusion: Taking the form of both sides in the past month, the Warriors have shown little fight in salvaging anything from what has been a very disappointing season. The Raiders, on the other hand, have shown exuberance and energy via their young stars as well as the welcome return to form of NSW five-eighth Terry Campese, who has been in hibernation since his axing after Origin I.

With thunderstorms predicted for the clash in Auckland, expect a torrid storm to rip through the Warriors defence and, combined with the attacking form the Raiders are in, they will struggle to continue their dominance over Canberra in Auckland.

Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Alan Shortall & Adam Reid; Video Red – Steve Clark.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 12pm (AEST).

* Statistics: NRL Stats.