Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v Wests Tigers
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday, 4.00pm (NZT), 2.00pm (AEST)
Both the Warriors and Tigers suffered critical blows to their hopes of making the finals last week courtesy of heavy defeats, and anything but a win when they meet in Auckland on Sunday will rule either side out of contention completely.
After enjoying a successful middle part of their NRL Telstra Premiership campaign, the wheels have well and truly fallen off the wagon for the Warriors over the past fortnight, and after being demolished 34-6 by the Cowboys last start they no longer have full control of their own destiny.
It is the same story for the 10th-placed Tigers, who sit tied on points with the Warriors but with an inferior points differential.
They were no match for Penrith in a 40-10 away loss last week, marking back-to-back defeats.
The Warriors are boosted by the return of their top try-scorer Solomone Kata, who replaces Matt Allwood in the centres, while coach Andrew McFadden has recalled Tuimoala Lolohea on the wing for Ken Maumalo (hamstring).
Rookie utility Ata Hingano retains his spot on the bench and Bunty Afoa is 18th man.
The Tigers' 17 is unchanged from last week, but David Nofoaluma shifts from wing to fullback.
Watch out Warriors: Individual errors have killed the Warriors over the past two weeks, with McFadden admitting as much in the aftermath of the slaughter in Townsville. As a team the Warriors' stats haven't been too bad, but mistakes from individuals on both sides of the ball have seen them leak cheap points and finish with far less possession than their opponents.
They may have suffered back-to-back defeats, but the Tigers look like they have had a weight taken from their shoulders in recent weeks, and are playing a free-flowing style which is havoc to contain when they get it right. Young halves Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks seem at their best when playing this way, while Jason Taylor's backline full of speedsters have been popping up everywhere.
Watch out Tigers: You aren't going to win too many games in the NRL when you miss 49 tackles, which is exactly what the Tigers came up with last week against Penrith. Six players had over four misses individually, with Kevin Naiqama and Mitchell Moses (both six) the worst offenders. If the total is anywhere near that again this week then the Tigers are unlikely to even trouble the Warriors.
One thing the Warriors haven't struggled with at all in 2016 is breaking the line, and heading into the final two games of the season they lead the entire competition in line breaks made. Across the year the Kiwi side average 4.9 per game, and even in heavy defeats over the last two weeks they managed five against South Sydney and three against North Queensland.
Key match-up: David Fusitu'a v David Nofoaluma. Neither player has been a permanent fullback in 2016, but their numbers this year suggest this should be a quality individual battle. Despite only playing 16 games this year Fusitu'a is the Warriors' second-highest try-scorer with 11, while he is also the club's equal-leader when it comes to line breaks made with 14. Nofoaluma meanwhile must be a contender for the most-improved player of the year, leading the competition in tackle breaks at an average of six across his 21 games. With three tries in his last three matches he has also become the club's joint-top try-scorer with 14.
The history: Played 26; Warriors 13, Wests Tigers 13. The Tigers have picked up the win in their two most-recent meetings, while prior to that the Warriors enjoyed a three-game streak. Since 2008 the Tigers have won only once in four trips to New Zealand.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters are keen on the Wests Tigers at the huge price, in fact there's three times as much money invested on them in the head-to-head market. Ninety per cent of the money wagered on handicap betting is with the Wests Tigers. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Jeff Younis and Shane Rehm. Review Officials: Steve Chiddy and Luke Patten. Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 1.30pm (AEST).
How we see it: It's effectively finals football time for both of these sides, and the situation is crystal clear: win or forget about playing in the post-season. In 2016 they have both been able to play some quality football, but never for consistent periods, and right now they are both sure to be down on confidence. Given it's at home, where they have lost only once in their last five, the Kiwi side should have the edge. Warriors by 10.
Game on. Data off.
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