Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v Parramatta Eels
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday, 6.00pm (NZT), 4.00pm (AEST)
On the ladder the Warriors and Eels have little to play for this week, yet their meeting at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday shapes as a crucial test of mental toughness and pride in the club emblem.
With both sides out of the running for an NRL Telstra Premiership finals spots, this clash takes on a different dynamic, as both clubs look to finish disappointing campaigns in positive fashion.
After going down in a disappointing 36-24 loss to the Tigers, the Warriors have a couple of forced changes with Manu Vatuvei (injury) and Solomone Kata (suspension) out, and coach Andrew McFadden bringing Jonathan Wright and Ken Maumalo in to the team.
Tuimoala Lolohea will shift from wing to fullback, with David Fusitu'a named to play centre in a re-shuffled backline.
James Gavet is replaced by rookie Bunty Afoa on the interchange.
Following an energetic 30-18 victory over the Dragons on Monday night it's little surprise to see Parramatta are unchanged, but coach Brad Arthur has included David Gower on an extended bench.
Sunday will be Thomas Leuluai's last game for the Warriors before heading over to Wigan, while the Eels will bid farewell to Roosters-bound winger Michael Gordon.
Watch out Warriors: Defence, or rather a lack of it, has been the club's Achilles heel as they have dropped out of finals contention with three-straight losses in the last month. In each of those three games the Warriors have conceded 34 points or more, while averaging 28.3 missed tackles. You can't expect to overcome that in the NRL and it's a must-fix for them.
Parramatta rolled through the heart of the Dragons on Monday night, powering through for 1,763 metres with a huge effort from their forwards. Every member of the pack, bar lock Beau Scott and hookers Isaac De Gois and Kaysa Pritchard, ran for over 100 metres individually, while in the backline Bevan French, Semi Radradra and Gordon all eclipsed the century mark in yardage as well.
Watch out Eels: Road trips haven't been Parramatta's friend in recent times, and they are without an away victory since Round 15. With six-straight losses away from home, the Eels travel to Mt Smart Stadium this week to play at a venue where they have won only five times in 16 visits. Overcoming the first obstacle of travel and being in unfamiliar territory will be a major factor for the Eels this week.
There has been little wrong with the Warriors' attack lately, despite losing three matches in a row. Across their last four games they have averaged 5.25 line breaks and looked threatening all over the park with the ball. With the exception of the Cowboys game in Round 24 the Kiwi side have scored more than 22 points per game through that period, and they are sure to present plenty of issues for the Eels' defence this week.
Key match-up: Bodene Thompson v Manu Ma'u. The two versatile back-rowers will this week mark-up directly in what is not only a key battle for this game, but potentially an early audition for a spot in the Kiwis for the end-of-year Four Nations. Thompson has found a new level in his combination with Shaun Johnson on the right edge, and in 17 games he has made eight line breaks and scored six tries. After making his Test debut earlier in the year, Ma'u has also had a stellar season and in 21 games the Auckland-native averages 14 carries for 126 metres.
The history: Played 35; Warriors 16, Eels 19. The Warriors have won the last three head-to-head clashes, while Parramatta have won only once in Auckland since 2008. The winning margin tends to be a sizeable one when these two teams meet, with eight of the last 10 being decided by 13 points or more.
What are the odds: Sportsbet has received more dollars on the Eels to cause an upset here. In fact, Parramatta 13+ is the best backed in winning margin. Bevan French is the most popular in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at Sporsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Adam Gee. Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Touch Judges: Shane Rehm and Clayton Sharpe. Review Officials: Ben Galea and Tommy Hickson. Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 3.30pm (AEST).
How we see it: The Warriors need to find a way to be motivated this week, despite having no hope of making the finals, and with the wounds from their exit still raw it will be no easy task. But Parramatta have been doing that for weeks and they are a team built on toughness right now. They should grind one out here. Eels by eight.
Game on. Data off.
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