Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday 5pm (NZT), 3pm AEST
The run home looks set to be a stressful one for both the Warriors and Dragons, who sit tied on 22 points heading into Round 22 and are teetering on the edge of the Telstra Premiership's top eight.
While the Dragons found some form again last week - ending a seven-game losing streak - with a 46-24 demolition of the Knights, the Warriors continued their aggressive drop down the ladder with an 18-14 loss to the Sharks.
Coach Andrew McFadden was surprisingly upbeat following his team's third-straight defeat, and that has been reflected in his selections for Saturday's clash at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Veteran utility back Jonathan Wright replaces Konrad Hurrell in the centres for the Kiwi side, while Dominique Peyroux joins the bench as 18th man
The Dragons welcome back NSW Origin forward Trent Merrin from a four-game suspension, which sees Jake Marketo drop back to 19th man.
Ben Creagh and Will Matthews swap between the bench and the front row, while coach Paul McGregor has one forced change with Kiti Glymin replacing Jason Nightingale (foot) on the wing.
Watch out Warriors: For a team who less than a month ago boasted the best attack in the competition, scoring 14 points or less in each of their last three encounters has to be concerning for the Kiwi outfit. In that same period the Warriors haven't been able to produce over three line breaks in a game, as their efforts on the ball have gone from dazzling to dour.
Benji Marshall is firing and that should worry everyone at Warriors' HQ. Last week the former Kiwi international ran the ball 15 times for 155 metres, breaking the line once and scoring a try. Most impressive perhaps was the fact that he set up a further three Dragons' four-pointers, lifting him to second in the competition in that category. He will threaten the Warriors all night.
Watch out Dragons: The loss of Jason Nightingale is a big one, given the role he would have played in restricting the effectiveness of the Warriors' backline. The veteran Kiwi winger is renowned for being safe as houses under the high ball, while he averages just one missed tackle through his 15 games in 2015. At 191cm and weighing 105kg, Warriors' right winger Ken Maumalo is an intimidating prospect, and he will be delighted to be marking up on rookie Kiti Glymin as opposed to Nightingale this week.
Had it not been for a few defensive lapses against the Sharks the Warriors would have done enough good work to secure victory last Saturday. Statistically the Kiwi side were solid, completing 78 percent of their sets and dominating possession with 58 percent. Their pack also ran for 1651 metres, over 200 more than their opposition, and they only conceded three penalties.
Key Match-Up: Chad Townsend v Gareth Widdop. It was no surprise to see the Dragons' return to form coincide with Widdop finding top gear again, and last week he ran for 90 metres, scoring a try and booting a perfect nine from nine goals. The performance was enough to earn him a spot in NRL.com's Team of the Week. Against the Sharks Townsend had a solid night, setting up the first try of the game with a kick, but having to absorb plenty of defensive pressure with 22 tackles and three misses.
The History: Played 22; Dragons 18, Warriors 4. Playing the Warriors should hold little fear for the Dragons, who haven’t lost a contest against them since July 2007. In the eight years prior to that St George Illawarra only lost four against the Kiwi side, making for one of their best head-to-head records against any side in the competition.
What Are The Odds: The Warriors have been the big drifters of the round, and there's been three times as much money put on the Dragons in the head-to-head market. Sportsbet punters have been keen on St George Illawarra to win by 13+ in margin betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Did You Know: In seven games played at Wellington's Westpac Stadium since 2001 the Warriors have won just once, beating the Wests Tigers 42-18 last year. Prior to that were five consecutive losses and a draw.
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Jason Walsh and Anthony Eliott. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Henry Perenara.
Televised: Sky Sport – Live from 5.00pm NZT. Fox Sports - Live from 3.00pm AEST.
The Way We See It: These two sides may be tied on points heading into Saturday's game, but the reality is that the Dragons are a better team right now and in much better shape with injuries. St George Illawarra appeared to have turned a corner last week against the Knights, and with their spine playing near top form will be too much for the Warriors to handle. Dragons by eight.