Former captain Steve Price has labelled Friday night’s clash with struggling Canterbury the defining game of the Warriors’ season as they look to mount another late run into the NRL finals.
The Warriors snapped a four-game losing streak with victory over the Gold Coast Titans last Friday night and are heavily favoured to make it two in a row this weekend against a Bulldogs outfit that has won just two of their past nine games.
But with a tough run home that sees them face Brisbane, Newcastle, Penrith, St George Illawarra and North Queensland in their final five games, Price believes the Warriors can’t afford to slip up at home on Friday night.
“They’ve got some tough opposition to play against but it’s a game of momentum going into those big games,” Price told NRL.com as the race for the top eight heats up.
“This is their chance to get on a roll but it’s a huge game for them. The big thing is that the Warriors are going to be favourites and it might be the only time in a while that they head in as favourites with the teams they’re coming up against.
“That means that all of the pressure is on them. It won’t be on them when they play the Dragons and Broncos but it will certainly be on them this week so they need to start putting wins together.”
The Warriors currently hold their destiny in their own hands – leading a group of eight sides battling for the last three top-eight spots with eight weeks remaining. While the five sides above them on the ladder have almost certainly secured their place in the finals, the Warriors (sixth) could potentially give themselves a four-point buffer over ninth spot should they continue Canterbury’s misery on Friday night.
“They need to get away from that chasing group of teams,” Price said. “At the moment it looks like there are three spots left and they need to be aiming as high as possible.”
Asked if he believed that the Warriors – who have typically proven to be strong finishers – were well placed for another late charge, Price said: “Yes… but they were very well placed five weeks ago, too. At that stage we needed to win five games from 12 or 13 – now they need to win four or five from eight to be a certainty to make the play-offs.
“But I think it’s a good way to go into the back end of the season.
“People say it’s a tough run but you always enjoy playing the best teams at this end of the season because you know you’re going to be tested.”
“The Bulldogs will be desperate so they won’t be easy-beats so I think it will be a good test for the guys to start to build some momentum.”
Price said he was particularly impressed with the Warriors’ defence against the Gold Coast last week after previously leaking 85 points in their four consecutive losses.
Tellingly, the Warriors have missed more tackles than any other side in 2011 at 38.6 per game. Clearly improved defensive performances are key to their title hopes.
“The funny thing is that during that winning period (the Warriors won eight games from nine between Rounds 4 and 11) they were probably the best in the league [defensively] but either side of that they’ve been pretty bad,” he said.
“You can’t afford to restrict a side to six points one week and then 30 the next. Over the four or five weeks when they weren’t playing well they were missing far too many tackles and there is no doubt that when they are playing well, concentration defensively is the key.”
The Warriors are still sweating on the return of halfback Brett Seymour and back-rower Lewis Brown from injury but Price said he had been impressed with the performance of the club’s rising stars this season and insisted there was no reason why the side couldn’t challenge the Dragons, Sea Eagles and Manly for the title over the coming months.
“Absolutely they can,” he fired.
“At the start of the year everyone was looking at the Warriors as a top-eight side. At the moment they’re just inside the eight and they need to string some games together but there were some good signs against the Titans that they are getting back to their best footy again. They’ll get a lot of confidence out of that.”