NOT BUYING IT: Raiders five-eighth Josh McCrone is expecting the Warriors to recall halves pairing James Maloney and Shaun Johnson ahead of Sunday’s clash at Mt Smart Stadium after the under-fire duo were left out of the side named by caretaker coach Tony Iro earlier this week.
With his side battling to end a seven-game losing streak, Iro has made major changes to his 17 – none more telling than the dumping of Maloney and Johnson for new five-eighth Feleti Mateo and halfback Pita Godinet.
But McCrone said he would be surprised if the Warriors stuck to the program, admitting he fully expects Iro to ring in the changes ahead of Sunday’s clash.
“I’m not reading too much into that – I wouldn’t be surprised if they both played,” the 25-year-old said. “But it’s more about us rather than who they put out.
“These are the games we’ve struggled with all year. It’s a very important game for us. After Melbourne we had a good win and then a pretty bad loss so this is pretty important – it’s heads down and concentrating on this week.
“If we defend like we did last week I think we’ll go a long way towards getting the two points.”
DOWN TO THE WIRE: An interesting sideshow will take place this weekend with a handful of players fighting it out for the title of NRL’s top try-scorer.
With one round remaining, Bulldogs star Ben Barba leads the way with 20 tries but Ashley Graham (19) and Akuila Uate (18) are nipping at his heels. Notably, none of them crossed the stripe last week.
Barba tied with Merritt for the title 12 months ago with 23 tries apiece and will no doubt be keen to win it for himself in 2012.
Barba has scored in 13 different games this season, Graham 11 and Uate 14.
NO REST FOR STORM: Don’t expect Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy to make the same mistake he did last year by resting key players for this week’s ‘dead rubber’ against the Wests Tigers.
Bellamy hinted that he may give some players a week off following Monday night’s remarkable win over Cronulla, which cemented their spot in the top two, but prop Bryan Norrie told NRL.com that no such plans had been mentioned in the lead up to tomorrow night’s clash at Leichhardt Oval.
“Craig hasn’t mentioned anything about anyone being rested and I doubt that we will,” Norrie said. “Personally I think that playing with a similar squad is pretty important leading into the finals – winning this week is massive, to be honest.
“You’d prefer to be winning leading into the finals, that’s for sure.”
The Storm rested players in Round 26 last season and paid the price with a demoralising 40-8 loss to Sydney Roosters. They followed that up with a less-than-convincing 18-8 win over Newcastle in Week 1 of the finals before bowing out at the hands of the Warriors in the grand final qualifier.
LOTE STILL HOPEFUL: His future has been clouded since breaking his arm last month but it seems that Lote Tuqiri’s time at Wests Tigers is set to continue with the barnstorming winger poised to sign a new deal with the club.
Tuqiri has been in talks with Tigers management for the past few weeks and is confident of agreeing to terms with only some minor details to be ironed out.
“They (the Tigers) are definitely interested in keeping him, that’s 100 per cent,” his manager Giancarlo Lombardo told NRL.com. “Talks have been going on for a little while now but obviously with his injuries he wanted to wait until he got back on the field before he started talking contracts. It’s not all about money.
“We’ll have a chat to Stephen Humphries next week and see where they are with the cap but the Tigers are definitely keen to keep him, that’s for sure and certain.”