Holden Cup Qualifying Final
Sydney Roosters v New Zealand Warriors
Friday, 5.15pm (AEST), 7.15pm (NZT)
It is do-or-die time for the defending Holden Cup premiers this Friday night, and standing in their way is a side loaded with individual brilliance.
After the Roosters and Warriors qualified sixth and seventh respectively, nothing but victory will do from now on if either team is to realise their National Youth Competition dream.
Unlike their NRL counterparts this Roosters side haven't exactly peaked at the right time of the year, coming into the finals with a draw and two losses in their most recent games.
There are plenty of changes to Adam Hartigan's side for the clash at Allianz Stadium, with a new-look halves pairing from that which took the field last week.
At five-eighth Connor Watson comes into the team at the expense of Danny Allende, while Grant Garvey moves to halfback in place of Zac Nicholls.
Joey Lussick moves to hooker and Misieli Vaikeli comes in on the bench.
In the back row Reuben Porter replaces Ryan King, while Sukamanu Raki takes 18th man Shaquai Mitchell's bench spot.
For the Warriors it has been an average year by their Holden Cup standards, finishing with as many losses as they had wins.
They limped into the finals with just one victory from their last four, but with a proud history of success they can never be discounted.
Coach Kelvin Wright has dropped Wesley Tauti out of his 17, with Matiu Love-Henry moving to the back row for lock Jazz Tevaga.
In the centres Marata Niukore replaces Junior Pauga, while Tyrone Nathan and Roman Tuhimata drop off the bench for Mattais Heimuli and Lewis Soosemea.
Watch Out Roosters: Home ground advantage at Allianz Stadium won't mean too much, with the Warriors winning more games on the road than at home this season. The Kiwi side lost just four games as the visiting team, winning six and drawing two. They rank sixth in terms of the best winning away record in the competition and have lost just one road game since Round 9.
The Warriors also find another leg when the finals come around in the NYC. The most successful team in the competition's eight-year history, the Kiwi side remain the only club to reach the competition’s finals every season. During that time they have reached the grand final four times, winning the title in 2010, 2011 and 2014. Of the 20 finals matches they have played so far they have won 15 and lost five.
Watch Out Warriors: No team in the Holden Cup gets away more offloads than the Roosters, averaging 11 per game. Much of the damage they do is off the back of second-phase play, and with players like fullback Latrell Mitchell backing up through the middle of the park they can quickly transform it into a line break or points.
The Roosters' back five is lethal on attack, between them scoring 67 tries through the regular season. Excluding centre Jake Steadman, who has only played three games this year, all have averaged over 100 metres run per game, and they each have more than 13 line breaks.
Key Match-up: Latrell Mitchell v Bradley Abbey. Two fullbacks who are a chance of playing Telstra Premiership footy in the next year, Mitchell and Abbey are both athletically gifted players who know their way to the try-line. With 15 four-pointers and 20 line breaks this season Mitchell has established himself as the Roosters' most dangerous attacking weapon. His opposite number this week doesn't have such impressive individual numbers, but his ability to chime into the backline on attacking moves benefits his side immensely, while Abbey also averages 121 running metres per game from the back of the field.
History: These two sides have met twice this year in the regular season, trading convincing victories. The boys from Bondi came out on top 38-22 in Round 14, before the Warriors got revenge in Round 19, winning 42-20. The Warriors head into the finals with 11 wins, 11 losses and two draws, while the Roosters have 12 wins, 11 losses and a draw to their name.
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Noyen; Assistant Referee: Kasey Badger; Touch Judges: Rohan Best and Josh McGowan; Video Referees: Steve Clark and Steve Folkes.
How We See It: The form guide says the Roosters might just be able to edge a victory out in this one, particularly given they possess more x-factor players than their opponents this week. But there is something special about the Warriors in this competition come crunch time, and they will likely be a different beast than they were through the regular season. Warriors by 10.