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Warriors v Wests Tigers
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 4pm (NZ time)

The second half of the season kicks off for these two clubs with a critical match-up that could decide which way their finals assaults go. Yes, it is a long time from the finals but these matches between teams in the middle of the pack are always the ones you look back on at the end of the year and say ‘if only’ or’ thank goodness’ we won it.

In this case we have the sixth-placed Warriors against the seventh-placed Wests Tigers – and neither team can complain about Origin players missing. With a win here the Wests Tigers could leapfrog the Warriors into the top six, while the Warriors could potentially get into fifth with a win and a Brisbane loss.

The Warriors had won five in a row before losing in a close one to the Roosters (13-6) last week. They will be out for revenge after losing to the Wests Tigers earlier this year, a result influenced by a poor refereeing error. They will be buoyed by the fact they haven’t been held to single figures in successive games since May 2000.

Aaron Heremaia is out of the side and will be replaced at hooker by Shaun Berrigan. Jacob Lillyman, who lost his Queensland jersey to Rabbitoh Dave Taylor, will start the match at prop, which pushes Ben Matulino to the bench. There are two new faces for the home side in the reserves’ list, with Lance Hohaia and Sione Lousi coming in.

The Wests Tigers managed to escape with a golden point-victory over Newcastle last Monday night to keep their floundering season above water. While it is true they are inside the finals zone, they would be the first to say their form has not been impressive and consistency has been lacking.

They welcome back Wade McKinnon at fullback, pushing Tim Moltzen back into the centres and young Tim Simona out of the side. Bryce Gibbs has been given a starting berth at prop with Aaron Woods hitting the bench. Alan Schirnack has been added as the 18th man.

Watch Out Warriors: Could this be the time Benji Marshall fires up against the team from his native New Zealand? NRL stats this week revealed Marshall, the New Zealand national captain, has lost all three of his games at Mt Smart Stadium when playing for the Tigers against the Warriors. More surprisingly he hasn’t ever scored a try against the Warriors (from seven games) making them the only club he’s failed to cross the line against. If you asked him he’d no doubt say it doesn’t worry him, or he didn’t know about it… but we reckon that would be bulldust.

He will want a massive performance this week. So far this year the mercurial Marshall has seven line-breaks, 13 line-break assists, five tries, 13 try assists, 18 offloads and 52 tackle-breaks. (He seemed relatively contained last week but believe it or not he added a massive 12 tackle-breaks against the Knights.) He knows more than anyone his side needs to find its mojo and a lot of that revolves around his own form.  

Danger Sign: Marshall is at his best when he is dancing towards a retreating defence. Considering the Tigers currently possess the highest percentage of fast play-the-balls in the league (14 per cent) there is a good chance he’ll get a few cracks.

Watch Out Wests Tigers: The Warriors are likely to play a middle-centric game this week. Rather than get into a shoot-out going wide, look for the Warriors to spend loads of time up the guts and on the edges. They have scored nine tries up the middle of the ruck so far this year and have certainly noticed the Wests Tigers have conceded 13 in the same area, more than any other team in the NRL. It is also important to know the Wests Tigers have conceded the most line-breaks in the NRL through centre-field (24). The Warriors also have scored 10 tries on each edge, showing a tendency to keep the ball in the middle third of the field as much as possible.

Danger Sign: One of the ways the Warriors make so many inroads up the middle is through second-phase play. With 14.4 offloads a week the Warriors lead the NRL. It harks them back to the old days when they were known as offload kings. Their current average is the best in five years. The Tigers need to shut down the ball or there could be endless traffic waltzing through the middle.

Plays To Watch: Attacking kicks galore… both teams have struggled at times against them; Benji’s show-and-go; Benji’s long cut-out pass; Feleti Mateo’s one-handed carry up and over defenders and the his popped passes.

Where It Will Be Won: Ball control and lack of errors. This game should be tight and as such, retention of the football will be paramount. So far this season the Warriors are ranked equal eighth in the NRL for errors with 12.1 a game. The Wests Tigers make the fifth most with 12.7 a game. The difference here on cyber-paper is obviously negligible but on the day it will be crucial.

The Warriors are completing 72.4 per cent of sets, the Tigers 71.5 per cent. But perhaps an opening for the Tigers exists in the fact they have completed 72.4 per cent of sets in away games while the Warriors have been poor at home, completing just 66.7 per cent. The side that gets into the grind before showing their razzle-dazzle will win.

The History: Played 18; Warriors 9, Wests Tigers 9. The Wests Tigers have won the past two games between the clubs, including a controversial 20-12 win earlier this season. Prior to those two matches the Warriors won five of six against the Tigers. At Mt Smart Stadium the Warriors lead the count 5-3 and the Tigers have won only once at the ground in the past decade.

Conclusion: If both teams show up to play, we’ll have an absolute cracker on our hands. The Warriors had a hiccup last week but were still defensively strong. If they can break their attacking shackles a little in the green zone and defend Marshall, they should have the edge.

But if the Wests Tigers from last season eventually turn up, it could be a completely different story.

Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Adam Devcich; Touch Judges – Ricky MacFarlane & Luke Phillips; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.