Warriors v Gold Coast Titans
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZ time)
It’s not often that the Warriors lose consecutive games on home soil, yet that’s exactly the scenario that has played out for last year’s grand finalists over the opening three rounds of the Telstra Premiership. Yet for the time being at least, there isn’t any great cause for concern given that those losses have come against premiers Manly and the undefeated Bulldogs in two high-quality games. Still, one win from three wasn’t exactly the start the Warriors were looking for and they will be keen to return to the winners’ circle and repay their home fans.
The biggest worry for the Warriors is how poorly they’ve been starting – having conceded sizeable leads in all three games so far. In Round 1 against Manly they trailed 16-0 after 21 minutes before coming back to fall 26-20; in Round 2 they made hard work of beating Parramatta after falling behind 8-0; and they were down 16-0 after as many minutes before again going down in a thriller against the ’Dogs.
Fortunately their attack remains their great strength and despite winning just one game they’ve managed to pile on 74 points in their three games to date.
Meanwhile, the jury is still out on last year’s wooden-spooners the Gold Coast following consecutive losses to Canberra and Melbourne. The Titans recruited strongly for 2012 and on paper at least appear to have the makings of a very competent squad, but until they start stringing some wins together they won’t figure in too many people’s top eight calculations. Worryingly, their only win of the season back in Round 1 was an unconvincing performance against a Cowboys outfit that completed just 46 per cent of their sets.
If they click they’ll be quite a handful, but they’ll want to find some dramatic improvement in the coming days if they hope to upset this strong Warriors outfit.
Warriors coach Brian McClennan has made plenty of changes this week with Ben Henry replacing Konrad Hurrell – who returns to the bench – in the starting XIII alongside Jerome Ropati. Sione Lousi and Ben Matulino have been named as the starting props with Russell Packer and Ukuma Ta’ai coming off the bench. The five-man interchange also boasts Toyota Cup back-rower John Palavi.
Titans coach John Cartwright has named an unchanged line-up although he will be hoping Idris is passed fit to play later in the week after he was a late withdrawal against Melbourne with a hamstring strain.
Both Gold Coast prop Luke Douglas and Warriors captain Simon Mannering celebrate their 150th NRL games this weekend, with Douglas doing so having not missed a single game since he debuted for Cronulla back in 2006. He has averaged 104.4 metres and 32 tackles per game in that time.
Mannering becomes just the sixth Warriors player to reach 150 games and currently sits third for both most runs (1659) and most tackles (3751) for the club.
Watch Out Warriors: The Warriors’ right-side defence can expect plenty of traffic to head their way on Saturday night. The Titans heavily favour their left edge when it comes to quick backline moves, with 17 strong shifts to that side compared to just four to the right. Not surprisingly they have scored three tries on their left and only one on the right in 2012. The tactic is worth sticking with: 14 of the 15 tries the Warriors have conceded this year have been out wide.
Danger Sign: The Warriors need to put some work into their kicking game, having averaged just 429 metres with the boot so far this season – the least of any side in the NRL. Much of the responsibility for that must fall on the shoulders of young half Shaun Johnson who has kicked for 202 metres per game – less than James Maloney’s 217. Of greater concern to coach Brian McClennan would be the 134 tackles the Warriors have missed in 2012 which is also the most by all 16 teams.
Watch Out Titans: Kevin Locke continues to leave his imprint on every game he takes part in with his pace and ability to spot an opportunity. Man of the match in the Warriors’ Round 2 win over Parramatta, he has scored two tries from three games, made 207 metres on kick-returns, averaged 118 metres per game and produced 16 tackle-breaks. Watch for him supporting his big men up the middle and darting out of dummy-half late in each half.
Danger Sign: The Titans are susceptible to the kick, with four tries scored against them from the boot so far this season – more than any other club. Ironically, the Panthers have been impeccable under the high ball but have defused just 67 per cent of short kicks in 2012.
Nathan Friend v Matt Srama: Nathan Friend comes up against his old club for the first time after joining the Warriors in the off-season. The experienced dummy-half offers plenty in attack with his speed off the mark and is a solid defender; however the Titans believe they have a ‘keeper’ in 21-year-old Matt Srama. Some at the club have even compared him with Queensland and Australian No.9 Cameron Smith. No doubt he will be keen to get one over his former mentor.
Where It Will Be Won: This promises to be an entertaining forward battle with the might of the big Warriors pack facing off against a Titans side boasting four State of Origin representatives in Greg Bird, Nate Myles, Ashley Harrison and Luke Bailey. The Bulldogs showed the value of winning the battle up the middle against the Warriors last week by restricting them to just 1289 running metres. Notably, the Titans have been competitive up front in all three games in 2012 and despite being out-classed by Melbourne last week can at least take heart in the fact that they managed 1263 metres to the Storm’s 1150. If they can do a similar job on the Warriors they’ll put themselves right into the contest.
The History: Played 10; Titans 6, Warriors 4. The Warriors won both encounters last season but before then had lost their past six games against the Gold Coast dating back to 2008.
The Last Time They Met: The Warriors prevailed 22-6 at Mt Smart Stadium in Round 18 last season to break a four-match losing streak and begin their charge towards the grand final. In a dour affair that belied the brilliance of what the Warriors would produce in the coming weeks, the home side relied on a deft kick from James Maloney for Shaun Berrigan to open the scoring after eight minutes. But it wasn’t until after the break – when they led just 10-6 following a try to Titans fullback William Zillman – that they finally secured the two competition points.
It was Feleti Mateo that provided the spark the home side was looking for when he collected a Maloney bomb before flicking the ball out the back for Simon Mannering to push his way over. Kevin Locke then sent Manu Vatuvei across out wide to ensure victory.
The Warriors completed just 61 per cent of their sets bit still managed four line-breaks to nil in a match that also saw Mat Rogers’ comeback last just 60 minutes before he broke his foot.
Mateo was the standout player on the field, making 30 tackles and 157 metres as well as contributing five tackle-breaks and five offloads.
Anthony Laffranchi made 46 tackles for the Gold Coast.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Dave Abood & Jason Walsh; Video Referee – Paul Mellor.
The Way We See It: A huge game for both sides given they have just a win apiece so far this season. All things considered, the Warriors should get the chocolates here. They are a proven attacking force, boast some of the best young talent in the NRL and are always tough to beat on home soil (despite their 0-2 record so far in 2012). We’re tipping them to win but this Titans side boasts enough skill to cause an upset should they get their attack right. It will happen eventually, but whether it happens this week is another thing. Warriors by eight points.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 5.30pm AEDT.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.