Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZT), 5.30pm (AEST)
The Warriors and Rabbitohs have vastly different reasons to feel motivated for the run home, but that will mean little come kick-off in their Round 23 clash at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday night.
While the eighth-placed hosts are up to their eyeballs in a battle for an NRL Telstra Premiership finals berth, Souths are out of the running in 14th and with nine losses in row are sure to be desperate to restore some pride.
With the Panthers and Tigers currently joining the Warriors on 24 points, and the Titans just behind on 23, the match shapes as a crucial one for the Kiwi side's chances of remaining in the top eight.
The Warriors are unchanged after last Sunday's 24-14 victory over the Titans, with coach Andrew McFadden including rookie forward Bunty Afoa as 18th man at this stage.
For the Bunnies Michael Maguire has only one positional change, with the Burgess twins swapping roles in a move which sees Tom start at prop and George revert to the bench.
Watch out Warriors: Some textbook goal-line defence – which eventually frustrated the Gold Coast into throwing a pair of long-range intercepts – gave the Warriors the edge they needed last week, but their attack struggled for much of the match. While the halves are playing well and finding repeat sets (eight in their past two games), the Kiwi side's attack can be guilty of being predictable and lacking a strong second option. This team need to find some more variety with the ball in hand.
Souths were a much-improved side in last week's golden point loss to the Storm. Through 84 minutes the Rabbitohs completed at 81 per cent, making only four errors. If they can replicate those types of numbers then a win won't be far away. Their last-up showing should have the Warriors on high alert.
Watch out Rabbitohs: To date this year the Bunnies have run for the second-fewest metres in the competition, an almost inexcusable stat for a pack loaded with highly-regarded players. Souths have run for over 1600 metres only once since Round 14 and across the season average 1444 per match. The Warriors on the other hand average 1542 running metres, and will take full advantage if South Sydney are soft through the middle.
The Warriors defended their line stoutly under immense pressure last week, constantly repelling Gold Coast raids. They gave up three tries across the 80, but saved a number with desperate scrambling efforts. Forced to defend four repeat sets, the Warriors came up with two try saves and in total missed only 16 tackles in a match where they made 320. Breaking this mob down isn't anywhere near as easy as it was at the start of 2016.
Key match-up: Tuimoala Lolohea v Greg Inglis. Both of these players have spent time playing different positions in 2016, but are arguably at their damaging best when wearing the No.1 jersey. Inglis has been typically dangerous when running the ball, and has failed to reach 100 metres only twice this year. The Queensland star also has 10 line breaks and 55 tackles breaks in 18 games. Lolohea meanwhile has become one the Warriors' best attacking weapons, with 14 line breaks in 19 games along with nine try assists.
The history: Played 29; Warriors 18, Rabbitohs 11. The Warriors hold a commanding overall advantage in head-to-head games against Souths, but have had no luck in recent times with four-straight losses to the Bunnies. They have tended to be high-scoring affairs of late, with four of the last five between these two sides seeing 40 or more combined points scored.
What are the odds: Sportsbet has hardly taken a bet on South Sydney with 95 per cent of all money invested on the match going on the Warriors. The Kiwi outfit have been included in a stack of multis over the weekend and a 13+ victory is on the cards according to the money trail. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Shane Rehm and Ricky MacFarlane. Review Officials: Ben Galea and Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 5pm (AEST).
How we see it: The confidence levels of these two sides must almost sit at opposite ends of the scale, with the Warriors enjoying back-to-back victories and having not lost a game in regular time since Round 11. The Rabbitohs on the other hand have gone down in nine straight and face a daunting trip across the Tasman. Expect Souths to build off last week and perform well, but the Warriors to be too good. Warriors by 16.