Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v Canberra Raiders
Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Saturday, 7.30pm (NZT), 5.50pm AEST
The NRL Telstra Premiership will break new ground this Saturday, hosting a game in New Plymouth for the first time when the Warriors take on the Raiders.
It shapes as an important match given both sides currently sit outside the top eight – the Raiders 9th and the Warriors 13th – with the winner a chance of jumping back into the top half of the competition by the end of Round 11.
The Warriors fell apart in the second half against the Panthers in an eventual 30-18 loss last week, and are missing Solomone Kata to a one-week suspension, with Matt Allwood replacing him in the centres.
The return of workhorse lock Simon Mannering is a huge boost for the Warriors, while prop Sam Lisone comes onto the bench and rookie Toafofoa Sipley is named at 18th man.
A number of positional changes sees Issac Luke start at hooker in the place of Jazz Tevaga, and Ben Matulino return to the starting side ahead of James Gavet.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was left to rue individual errors which cost his side a chance to beat the Dragons in golden point, going down 16-12 after gifting an intercept try.
They are without lock Shaun Fensom [shoulder] for the trip to New Zealand, with Luke Bateman taking his place.
On a positive note Jeff Lima returns on a six-man bench which includes Sam Williams and Frank-Paul Nuuausala.
Watch out Warriors: The Raiders present a huge threat down their right edge, with Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana – the centre and winger on that side of the field – assisting or scoring 19 of Canberra's 39 tries so far this year. Rapana leads the NRL in line breaks with 14 in 10 games, while Leilua tops the competition in offloads, averaging 3.7 per game.
The Kiwi side had a number of chances to add to their tally of 18 points last week, but continually let themselves down with errors late in tackle counts and wrong options at the end of their sets. Several of the Warriors' nine errors came as they were building in the opposition half, while halfback Shaun Johnson came up with some poor kicks on last tackles, which failed to build any pressure. They'll need to be better.
Watch out Raiders: It's impressive that Canberra were even able to take the game to golden point last week, given they managed to complete only 63 per cent of their sets. The high error rate meant they finished on the wrong side of the possession count and had to make 119 tackles more than their opponents. That area will need to be better this weekend.
Mannering is back, and with his return the Warriors become a much more secure defensive unit in the middle of the park. The Kiwi international captain gets involved heavily in the clean-up work, and so far this year averages 43 tackles. He also frees up other members of the squad to focus more on their attacking impact.
Key match-up: Issac Luke v Josh Hodgson. They have had contrasting seasons so far, with Hodgson leading the Dally M count after 10 weeks and Luke struggling to find the type of form which had him billed as one of the biggest signings of 2016. But their battle in the middle will be crucial nonetheless, with Hodgson averaging 57.9 metres and 35.1 tackles per game, and Luke 65.3 metres and 29.2 tackles. Watch for the little extra plays from both players – Hodgson with his 40/20 threat and Luke with his breaks from dummy-half – which could turn the game.
The history: Played 34; Warriors 17, Raiders 17. The Warriors' recent head-to-head record against the Raiders is very good, with five-straight victories over the Green Machine. Canberra also haven't won in New Zealand in their last three games, in a stretch which dates back to 2012.
What are the odds: The Warriors start as the favourite with Sportsbet but punters are only interested in the Raiders. More than 80% of the money is on the Raiders with Canberra 1-12 the predicted margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Matt Noyen. Touch Judges: Shane Rehm and Rohan Best. Review Officials: Ben Galea. Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 5.00pm (AEST)
How we see it: The Raiders have lost their way over the last couple of games, and are being punished for some loose play and ill-discipline with ball in hand. The Warriors are hardly perfect themselves and were badly exposed in certain areas in the loss to Penrith last week. But so far in 2016 they have rarely put similar performances together consecutively – good or bad – and if they show up mentally on Saturday they will be too good for Canberra. Warriors by eight.