Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday, 2.00pm (NZT)
St George Illawarra are a constant reminder to the Warriors that history does in fact repeat, and the Dragons head to Auckland this week boasting a commanding head-to-head record against the Kiwi side.
In 23 clashes against the Warriors the Dragons have lost only four times, and are currently on an 11-game winning streak.
While Anzac Day brought out the best in the Dragons, edging past the Roosters 20-18 to secure their fourth win of the season, the Warriors on the other hand were at their absolute worst, copping a humiliating 42-0 defeat to the Storm.
They arrived back in Auckland this week with their tails between legs and a growing injury toll, which after Monday's encounter includes Simon Mannering [mouth cut] and Tuimoala Lolohea [knee].
Coach Andrew McFadden has three changes to his squad – two of which were forced through those injuries – while Ligi Sao has been dropped to reserve grade.
Shaun Lane is named to make his club debut off the bench, with Albert Vete and Jazz Tevaga joining him.
Charlie Gubb gets a start at lock, while Jonathan Wright is on the wing and David Fusitu'a at fullback. Prop James Gavet is 18th man.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor hasn't strayed far from his winning formula, with the only change to his side being the return of Euan Aitken to the centres in the place of rookie Taane Milne, who reverts to 18th man.
Watch out Warriors: The missed tackle count from last week probably doesn't do justice to just how bad the Warriors' defensive effort was. The Kiwi side missed only 26, but had a number of other occasions where they failed to even lay a hand on opposing attackers. Individual errors cost them dearly, with four players missing three or more tackles.
Confidence is a powerful thing in the NRL, and once a team gets a taste it can quickly become contagious. The Dragons looked the most comfortable they have all year during their victory over the Roosters, adding some flair to their attack. They are sure to have taken plenty from that and will take the field in New Zealand with a spring in their step.
Watch out Dragons: While their 20-point haul against the Roosters on Anzac Day was their highest of the season so far, the Dragons still didn't create enough opportunities in attack, given how much ball and positive field position they had. With 52 per cent of possession and an 80 per cent completion rate, St George Illawarra managed just a sole line break and three tries, scoring only two points in the entire second half.
Beware of the bounce-back factor. It's pretty rare that NRL teams produce two terrible performances in a row, and if nothing else the embarrassment from last week should spur the Warriors on to a better performance. The Dragons should expect their opponents this week to be fired up.
Key match-up: Manu Vatuvei v Jason Nightingale. When they meet on Sunday these two won't just be competing for an NRL win, but also potentially a spot in the Kiwis for the upcoming Test. In five games Vatuvei averages 119.8 metres and has made just one handling error all year. Despite playing on the end of the competition's worst attack, Nightingale has been a standout in scoring three tries and running for over 100 metres in all eight games to date.
The history: Played 23; Warriors 4, Dragons 19. It's an awful head-to-head record for the Warriors against the Dragons, having not beaten them since back in 2007. The usually intimidating environment of Mt Smart Stadium won't hold too much fear for the Dragons either – in 11 trips there they have failed to get the points on only three occasions.
What are the odds: There’s twice as much invested on the Dragons in comparison to the Warriors, and St George Illawarra have been strongly backed to win the game 13+ as well as cover the line in handicap betting according to Sportsbet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: Chris Butler. Touch Judges: Rick MacFarlane and Anthony Elliot. Review Officials: Ben Galea, Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 11.30am (AEST).
How we see it: In a way these two sides cancel out each other's major weaknesses – the Dragons lack attack while the Warriors have big issues in defence – which means this should be a close affair on Sunday. Already this year the Warriors have a history of backing up a poor performance with a gritty one the following week, and they should have enough points in them to edge the Dragons. Warriors by four.