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Warriors v Sharks
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZ time), 5.50pm (AEDT)

Despite the fact both the Warriors and the Sharks have been tipped to battle it out for the wooden spoon and they both fell in Round 1, this game shapes up to be an intriguing encounter.

Sure, they lost to the Titans and Storm respectively, but it was expected they would be easy prey for those sides and this was not the case – in fact both the Warriors and Cronulla had opportunities to win their opening games, giving their fans some optimism going forward.

It is of course only Round 2, but with one team set to get their first win of the year and the other guaranteed to be winless near the basement of the ladder, the intensity will rise.

The home-side Warriors had every chance to take down the Titans on their own turf, leading 18-6 before being run down 24-18. Having 41 missed tackles in the match certainly didn’t help and while the Sharks’ attack isn’t as potent as the Titans’, it will still pose enough questions for Ivan Cleary’s men to worry about.

The home side has named Russell Packer to start at prop, with Jesse Royal reverting to the bench – although the pair was named this way last weekend and Royal took the opening minutes.

Simon Mannering also returns – as captain – in the back row, pushing Ben Matulino to the bench and Sione Lousi out of the side. Wade McKinnon comes onto the bench to make up a squad of 18.

Cronulla battled hard in pretty awful, wet conditions against Melbourne, clawing their way back into the contest to trail 14-10 with nine minutes remaining – despite being with 12 men for a 10-minute period around the halftime break after skipper Trent Barrett was sin-binned.

But their attacking thrust couldn’t find the telling blow and some of their options late in the match were sub-par, something coach Ricky Stuart would be pointing out at training this week.

They have stuck solid with their line-up, with the only addition being forward Broderick Wright as an 18th man.

Watch out Warriors: Paul Gallen has once again shown he’ll be the Sharks’ main thrust after he ran for 162 metres in Round 1. His 23 runs in the match were by far the most of any Shark, with the next best forward being Anthony Tupou’s 12 runs.

The aggressive back-rower thrives on the tough stuff and he’ll be putting his hand up to run into the teeth of the Warriors’ pack all night. He’ll also hit the edges, hoping to steamroll someone smaller one on one.

While he did manage three offloads against the Storm, he failed to register any tackle-breaks, something that will have been pointed out to him. Considering the pride in performance Gallen usually has, this statistic will be one he’ll be out to change.

Watch out Sharks: Wade McKinnon might be spending more time on the bench for the Warriors if Lance Hohaia continues to be the side’s main attacking thrust. Hohaia, one of the best utility players in the game, produced an impressive performance at fullback against the Titans and needs to be a heavy focus in the Cronulla game plan.

In a solid all-round performance in a losing side, Hohaia ran for 172 metres, kicked for 142 metres, broke the line twice, once from a kick return (the Warriors had just three line-breaks), produced 10 tackle-breaks and an offload. He needs to be contained as both an elusive ball runner and as a skilful ball player; he represents the type of threat that gives opposition coaches nightmares.

Where it will be won: Attacking thrust. Both teams had issues in attack in the opening round (they also had defensive deficiencies but their attack needs major work) and need to find more ways to penetrate the defence if they are to become premiership threats.

The Warriors made just three line-breaks against the Storm and two of their three tries came from kicks, showing they need to be more creative with ball in hand.

Hohaia needs to be even more involved, half Brett Seymour needs to show his former club what skills he has, five-eighth James Maloney needs to shake off his 75 judiciary points and cement a place in NRL football and Aaron Heremaia needs to become a hooker who does more than distribute ball.

The outside backs at the Warriors are full of quality, with Test standard centres in Brent Tate and Jerome Ropati and the beast Manu Vatuvei and speedster Kevin Locke on the wings, yet they failed to make impact last week. They must live up to their reputations for the Warriors to thrive.

The Sharks’ attack was also pretty dismal in Round 1. They managed just two line-breaks against Melbourne, despite getting some nice offloads away. Trent Barrett and Scott Porter need to gel as a unit rather than play as two distinct players, as the calling and over-calling is getting very disjointed and the attack therefore predictable.

The edge-running back-rowers also need to run better lines, so when they are given a nice short ball they aren’t running into brick walls.

A better kicking game would also benefit both sides: the Warriors were just 38.5 per cent accurate trying to find space with kicks – and the Sharks worse at 37.5 per cent!

The History:
Played 24; Warriors 11, Sharks 13. Cronulla won the only match between the two sides last season but haven’t won at Mt Smart Stadium since 2007. The Warriors have a 7-4 advantage at the venue.
In an interesting development, the past seven matches have gone win-loss for the teams and if this continues, it is the Warriors’ turn for victory.

Conclusion: The home field advantage might just tip this one in the Warriors’ favour – although the Sharks look ready to scrap out matches this season, so if the home side don’t come out switched on they will remain without a win.

If Mannering can ignite the side and help get rid of some of the rust in attack, as well as stiffen up their very poor defensive display from the opening round, they will be on their way.

Luckily, the Sharks’ attack isn’t as dangerous as the Titans’, so the missed-tackle concerns could be less of an issue this week – providing they find ways to penetrate in attack.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 5.30pm (AEDT).

* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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