Warriors v Eels preview

Warriors v Eels
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 5.00pm NZ time (3.00pm AEDT)

After just a couple of rounds these two sides are probably proof that any given performance in the Telstra Premiership is never as good, or bad, as you think it is at the time.

Last Sunday the Warriors recovered from an opening round loss to the Knights to record a valuable 18-6 win away to the Raiders, a result which came off the back of some gutsy defence and an early second-half scoring blitz.

The Eels meanwhile looked nothing like the side who thrashed Manly by 30 points in Round 1, conceding six tries against the Bulldogs in a 32-12 rout on Friday night.

Injuries from that game to powerhouse winger Semi Radradra and centre Beau Champion mean Vai Toutai and Ryan Morgan get the call up, tasked with containing an ever-improving Warriors backline this Saturday night at Mt Smart Stadium.

The home side have named the same 17 to run out for the Play NRL Round, with Sam Tomkins and Shaun Johnson appearing to have shaken off knocks sustained last up.

Interchange players Nathan Friend and Ben Henry will clock up personal milestones in the club's first home match of the season, playing their 200th and 50th NRL games respectively.

Watch out Warriors: Despite taking home the two points last week the New Zealanders came up with some concerning stats in Canberra. Eighteen errors contributed to a poor 63 per cent completion rate, while they missed 27 tackles and ended up on the wrong side of the penalty count. Give Parramatta that many opportunities with the ball and they may pay the ultimate price.

In Will Hopoate's opening two hit-outs in the fullback jersey his involvement has been a feature for the Eels. The Warriors have a tendency of slipping off tackles in the middle of the park, which is where Hopoate can be simply deadly off the shoulders of Anthony Watmough, Tim Mannah and co. So far this season 'Hoppa' is averaging 162 metres per game and has loomed up in support a team-high 27 times.   

Watch out Eels: Sam Tomkins returned for the Warriors last week and made an almost instant difference to the accuracy with which they attacked. With the help of the English custodian they looked more direct and had another weapon to add to what is already an intimidating arsenal. On an individual note Tomkins had 158 run metres, a line break and two try assists against the Raiders.

The Warriors pack simply ran over the top of Canberra on Sunday afternoon, matching their efforts on the defensive side of the ball with an aggressive running game through the middle. Off 195 runs the Kiwi team had 1810 metres, averaging over nine metres per carry. Numbers like those allow the likes of Johnson and Tomkins the space to create havoc with the ball. The Eels must contain their opposing big boppers. 

Key Match-Up: Manu Vatuvei v Reece Robinson. Last week the Raiders had no answer for Vatuvei on either side of the ball, as the veteran winger junior ran for 190 metres, made a line break and scored a try – his sixth touchdown against the Raiders in his last three games against them. He also made a couple of crucial reads on defence, earning him a spot in the NRL.com Team of the Week. Robinson on the other hand was part of a right-edge which was badly exposed on two Curtis Rona tries, and if he is anywhere off his best this week while marking up on 'The Beast' you can expect the Warriors to direct plenty of ball his way.

The History: Played 33; Eels 19, Warriors 14. Last year these two sides both smashed each other at home, adding to a recent history which suggests whoever wins this one will do so convincingly. In the last three head-to-head meetings between them the smallest winning margin has been 20 points. The venue this Saturday means a lot given the Eels have won only once in their last five visits to Auckland.

What Are The Odds: Back home for the first time this season, and off the back of a convincing showing away at Canberra, the Warriors are $1.40 favourites. The Eels' growing injury toll and recent history at Mt Smart Stadium sees them out at $2.95. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au

Did You Know: Sixty per cent of the Warriors' total points scored last year came during home matches. That included their three biggest wins of the year against Parramatta (48-0), Gold Coast (42-0) and Canberra (54-12).

Match Officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Adam Gee. Touch Judges: David Ryan and Jon Stone. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Steve Folkes.

Televised: Sky Sport – Live from 4.30pm NZT (Fox Sports 3pm AEDT).

The Way We See It: The Warriors look to have learnt some valuable lessons after their round one embarrassment at Newcastle, and are a much better team with Tomkins on the pitch. The Eels are wounded and have lost arguably their best player so far in 2015 in winger Radradra. The New Zealanders are tough to beat at home, especially when you don't have all your weapons available. Warriors by 16.

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