Bulldogs v Warriors Preview
Some 159 tries and 874 goals equals to 2384 points in 313 games, and counting.
The numbers say it all when it comes to celebrating the career of the game’s highest ever point-scorer, Hazem El Mazri.
The Bulldogs face off with the New Zealand Warriors at Homebush this Sunday afternoon in the regular season’s penultimate round. The clash has been billed as a tribute to the Bulldogs winger, with festivities planned throughout the day.
A big crowd is expected to farewell the goal-kicking whiz – but they’ll also be treated to a side hungry to claim the minor premiership and continue its surge into this year’s finals.
The ’Dogs sit just behind competition leaders St George Illawarra and are ready to pounce on any more Dragons failures. The red and white have lost consecutive games for the first time this year while the blue and white will look to build on a three-game winning streak and gain as much momentum as they can heading into September.
Their clinical 28-4 win over the Roosters last Monday barely raised a sweat for last year’s wooden-spooners, but as the regular season draws to a close, look for coach Kevin Moore to begin gearing his troops for an enormous tilt at this year’s premiership.
New Zealand representative Ben Roberts comes back for the home side, with Daniel Holdsworth sent back to NSW Cup. Queensland star Ben Hannant also returns from his knee injury, with Jarrad Hickey moving back to an extended bench. With Roberts and Hannant slotting straight back into the starting side, the Bulldogs are now at full strength and healthy at the perfect time of the year.
Facing a well-drilled Bulldogs outfit eager to send one of their legend’s away with victory is hard enough, but the Warriors have been dealt a massive blow with former Bulldogs captain Steve Price and Kiwi rep star Simon Mannering both lost to injury.
Price will undergo surgery on his eye, ruling him out for the rest of the season, while Mannering will miss a week with a troublesome knee.
Evarn Tuimavave is the new starting front-rower while Lewis Brown replaces Mannering in the second row. Forwards Russell Packer and Ben Matulino are the new faces on the bench.
One positive the Warriors will take with them into this week’s game will be their entertaining 34-20 victory over the Raiders last Sunday. It was just their second win in nine games.
Watch out Bulldogs: The Warriors don’t score much (16.2 points a game – 15th in the NRL), but everyone knows they’re a dangerous, high-risk unit, ready to throw the ball around and chance their arm.
It’s been no different in 2009, with the Warriors averaging 36.6 tackle breaks in the competition – second only to Brisbane’s 37. This results to a high amount of offloads (14.4 a game – 3rd in the NRL) and errors (12.4 a game – 15th in the NRL).
Fullback Wade McKinnon leads the way with 106 tackle busts. Lance Hohaia also chimes in with 83, while monster winger Manu Vatuvei has 74.
Though the passes aren’t sticking, the Warriors are a team that have the speed and firepower outside should they begin getting on top with some more second-phase play.
Watch out Warriors: The Bulldogs have averaged more points per game than any other team in the NRL this year with 23.8. They’re also equal first in line breaks with 5.3 a game, making them one of the competition’s premier attacking teams.
The Warriors’ outside backs especially will have plenty of trouble keeping the in-form Bulldogs backline out of their in-goal area. The ’Dogs boast three players in the top 10 try-scorers – Bryson Goodwin (19), Josh Morris (16) and the legendary El Masri (14).
With the game taking on plenty of importance with the celebration of El Masri’s career, expect the blue and white to be determined to put on a big performance for their winger. If the Warriors don’t defend, or if they get discouraged by an early onslaught, this game has the potential to turn into a rout.
Where it will be won: With discipline. Both sides are guilty of mental lapses, faring badly in errors and offloads conceded. The ’Dogs make 11.8 mistakes (11th) and concede 13.3 offloads (11th) while the Warriors make 12.4 errors (15th) and allow 13.5 offloads (12th).
The ’Dogs will also have to ensure their minds remain on the job at hand – winning the game and staying alive in the race for the minor premiership – and not on the big party planned for El Masri’s farewell.
With the finals just around the corner it wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest some ’Dogs might have their eye on September action already.
But that’s where experience comes in – and the ’Dogs have it in bowl-loads with the likes of Brett Kimmorley, Luke Patten and Andrew Ryan, while the Warriors lose it with Steve Price.
The history: Played 25; Bulldogs 13, Warriors 10, drawn 2. The ’Dogs have won seven of their past nine games against the Warriors, including a tense 18-14 win at Mt Smart Stadium in July.
The Warriors, however, have won two of their past three, including last year’s corresponding fixture 40-22. But this year’s Bulldogs are a vastly different side to 2008 and will start heavy favourites as they look to continue their dominance over New Zealand.
Conclusion: The hype and celebration around Hazem El Masri’s farewell could prove a distraction as the ’Dogs aim to build momentum into the finals.
But under the guidance of reborn halfback Brett Kimmorley, the ’Dogs should prevail over a Warriors side rudderless without Steve Price.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Chris James; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm (AEST); Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.