Warriors v Roosters preview

Warriors v Roosters
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZ time)

The Warriors entered the competition in 1995, while the Roosters are a foundation 1908 club; but the two share some interesting heritage, mainly as combatants in the 2002 grand final.

It remains the only appearance for a Warriors side in the big one and while they led 8-6 early in the second half of that premiership decider, they were eventually over-run by the Brad Fittler-inspired Roosters, who triumphed 30-8.

It is a result the Warriors still lament and it has ensured a healthy rivalry when these two teams come together.

The Warriors have certainly had the wood on the Roosters recently, winning four in a row over last year’s runners-up, but having only just won their first game of the year last weekend they desperately need to make it five in a row.

With just the one win and three losses the Warriors find themselves in 14th spot on the NRL ladder and while the 26-18 win over Cronulla was an improvement they’ll need to lift again if they are to beat the Roosters.

Prop Russell Packer is out of the side, replaced by Sam Rapira and coach Ivan Cleary has named two potential bench replacements in Jeremy Latimore and Matt Robinson.

For the Roosters, last weekend’s 24-6 win over the Wests Tigers was certainly timely. They have been a little scratchy during the first month but have managed to scrape together a 2-2 start and find themselves in seventh spot.

They have kept the same squad; however, big names Jason Ryles, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Phil Graham have been added to an extended reserves list and you can assume some, if not all of them, will play. As always, coach Brian Smith won’t finalise who gets a run until right before kick-off.

Some milestone watches: Roosters captain Braith Anasta requires just three more points for 400 in his career while Todd Carney needs just two more four-pointers for 50 career tries.

Watch Out Warriors: All the talk this week has been about up-and-coming prop Martin Kennedy. While the debate is ongoing about where he ‘belongs’ for Origin, the big man has been the focus of an astute bunch way prior to last week’s big game. In fact, had the Roosters won last year’s title, word is Kennedy would have been a Kangaroos bolter!

Against the Wests Tigers he punched out 11 runs, six tackle-breaks, scored his maiden NRL try and grabbed two line-breaks. He was the first Roosters prop since Mickey Paea in 2006 to record two line-breaks in one game. He is averaging career highs in minutes played (39.8), runs (11), metres (104) and tackles (22.5).

Danger Sign: You will get a sense early as to whether the hype around Kennedy is being harnessed… in fact don’t be surprised if coach Smith starts him from the bench and brings in Ryles or Nuuausala to start. If this is the case, Kennedy could be even more damaging as a fresh battering ram.

Watch Out Roosters: After a shaky Round 1 debut we got to see the real ‘Flying Fish’ last weekend against the Sharks, and the Roosters had better take note.

Glen Fisiiahi, now in his favoured position at fullback, was brilliant for the Warriors. He scored twice, ran for 147 metres, added two line-breaks and five tackle-breaks. His pace off the mark was electrifying and while he is yet to confirm himself as a competent player under the high ball his kick-returns have been slashing efforts.

Danger Sign: Watch for Fisiiahi as a support player up the middle of the ruck. When the Warriors get their offload game rolling, this kid will cash in.

Plays To Watch: Feleti Mateo’s one-handed ball carry and offloads; Todd Carney taking on the line from close range; Braith Anasta lurking on the edges; Shaun Kenny-Dowall punishing the right edge.

Where It Will Be Won: Second-phase play, and defence against it.

The Warriors finally had the offloads pumping against the Sharks and it helped them record their first win. The Roosters also generally don’t mind keeping the ball alive, so we could see a lot of counter-attacking situations here as both teams carry the ball a little ‘loose’.

The Roosters’ defence against the Wests Tigers last week in the second half was phenomenal. They withstood 44 plays from inside their half after halftime, but only conceded the single try. They will need to scramble well against the likes of Mateo, who now has 14 offloads for the year and is playing wider at five-eighth.

The Roosters might offload a little less frequently than the Warriors (34 to 49) but they have put themselves in good positions to promote second-phase passes on a significant number of occasions. The Roosters have 162 supports so far this season – the fourth best in the league – while the Warriors have just 51 supports. This is by far the fewest in the NRL. They need to push up and help their ball carriers if they are to capitalise on the offloads.

The History: Played 26; Warriors 15, Roosters 10, drawn 1. The Warriors have a surprisingly good record. They have won five and drawn one of the past eight against the Roosters including four consecutive wins. The Roosters haven’t beaten the Warriors since early in the 2008 season. At Mt Smart Stadium the Warriors hold an 8-4 advantage and have won 11 of the past 13 night matches at the venue against all opponents.

Conclusion: The Warriors certainly improved last week – but so too did the Roosters. Despite the fact the Warriors have been punishing them in recent times, the Roosters look the more settled as a unit and could have a slight edge. But their consistency has been an issue, so don’t discount the home side.

If the Warriors can carry on with the confidence gained from last week and get the passes to stick, then they are a huge chance.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Clayton Sharpe; Video Referee – Russell Smith.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.