Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v Melbourne Storm
Mt Smart Stadium
Historically mid-year victories over Melbourne have often proved season-defining points for the Warriors, but this time around they desperately need a victory just three weeks into the 2016 Telstra Premiership campaign.
After starting the season with back-to-back defeats – which takes them to 10 straight losses when you add on last year – the Warriors have been widely criticised by media and fans alike, and anything less than a victory in their first home game of the season will see that heat increase drastically.
Conversely for Melbourne the year began with wins in both their opening clashes, with the loss of Billy Slater for the season being the only significant negative to come out so far.
With that in mind the Storm have named the same 17 from last week's 34-16 victory over the Titans.
Youngster Cameron Munster will start at fullback for the second time this year, while Fijian flyer Marika Koroibete is free to play after taking an early guilty plea for a dangerous throw charge.
For the Warriors second-rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner drops back to reserve grade and Sam Lisone misses this week through a shoulder injury, which sees Albert Vete and Charlie Gubb included on the bench.
Manu Vatuvei and Blake Ayshford have both been named but remain in doubt due to rib and concussion issues respectively, prompting Konrad Hurrell and Jonathan Wright to be named as cover on an extended bench.
Prop Ben Matulino is free to play after being cleared of a grade one shoulder charge on Wednesday night.
Watch out Warriors: The home side have finished both their matches with a better completion rate than their opposition but still haven't been able to convert it into a victory. The Warriors' increased efficiency with the ball has been undone by poor attacking structure, an inability to consistently force repeat sets and some below-par edge defence.
Storm left winger Marika Koroibete has made a stellar start to the year, scoring two tries and averaging three line breaks and 127.5 metres. This week he lines up against a Warriors right side which has been porous over the first two rounds. Koroibete thrives off space on the ball and is sure to punish the hosts for any bad reads out wide.
Watch out Storm: Despite the negative press they have been copping from both sides of the Tasman the Warriors haven't been far off stealing the two points in either of their opening clashes. The Kiwi outfit have the third-lowest error count in the competition with 15 so far, and have completed at above 70 per cent in both matches. That should breed some confidence and belief heading into Round 3.
It has been a long time (eight months to be precise) since the Warriors had a win, but Melbourne will remember it well given it came against them in Round 18 last year. For whatever reason the Kiwi side tend to lift that bit extra for games against the Storm; it's a theory the playing group and coaching staff are aware of and buy into, and that should worry Cameron Smith and co a little ahead of their trip to Auckland.
Key match-up: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Cameron Munster. Two young fullbacks, one who has already made his name as a class act and the other who is on the verge of doing the same. Despite being well below his best in his first two matches as a Warrior Tuivasa-Sheck has still managed 200 or more running metres in both to lead the competition in that category. Twenty-one-year-old Munster meanwhile has two tries in as many games this year, and with Billy Slater being ruled out for the season through injury now gets his chance to establish himself as the dynamic fullback many believe he will be. The involvement of both players in attack will be important come Sunday.
The history: Played 36; Warriors 16, Storm 18, Drawn 2. Melbourne hold a slight edge in the overall head-to-head record, but in more recent times have tasted victory in just one of their last four against the Warriors. The Storm have also lost their previous two at Mt Smart Stadium, with their last win in Auckland coming back in 2012.
What are the odds: The money is running 10 to one in favour of Melbourne to win this one and the Storm have been big firmers throughout the week. Sportsbet punters aren't convinced it will be a runaway victory though, with most of the money on Melbourne to win 1-12. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Dave Munro. Touch Judges: Jason Walsh, Anthony Elliott. Review Officials: Ben Galea, Matt Cecchin. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – live coverage from 4.00pm AEDT
The way we see it: In many respects the 2016 Warriors and Storm sides are polar opposites right now. Melbourne generally pride themselves on making the most of their chances with the ball and being stringent defence, while the Kiwi side is too often guilty of being wasteful in attack and flimsy on the other side of the game. Melbourne are 2-0 to start the year, but both victories came against teams who are 0-2, while the Warriors showed enough last week against Brisbane to suggest their first win since July last year isn't far away. The Kiwi side have a good record against the Storm and are more than capable of getting the two points in this one. Warriors by four.