Warriors v Sea Eagles: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: Warriors v Sea Eagles
Mount Smart Stadium
Sunday, 4pm NZT, 2pm AEST

Two teams looking to battle their way out of form slumps, albeit of vastly different degrees of severity, meet in Auckland this Sunday in the penultimate round of the NRL Telstra Premiership regular season.

For the 13th-placed Warriors the current situation is about as bad as it gets, and with seven-straight losses to their name a defeat in Round 25 would see them close in on their worst ever losing run of 11 matches.

They come off a heavy 36-18 defeat at the hands of the South Sydney Rabbitohs last Friday, but get a boost this week with star halfback Shaun Johnson returning to the starting side in place of Ata Hingano, who drops back to the interchange.

Ben Matulino is a straight swap for Jacob Lillyman (biceps), while Isaiah Papali'i joins the bench and Tevita Satae and Mason Lino drop out.

Despite crashing to back-to-back defeats last week in being upset by the Canterbury Bulldogs 30-16, Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett has named an unchanged line-up for the trip to Auckland.

Sitting in eighth position and just one win ahead of the nearest chaser, Manly's season sits in the balance after picking up only one win from their last four games.

Why the Warriors can win: Most of the tangibles suggest a comfortable Manly victory, but the home side have plenty to play for in theory, which should see them get up for this one. Sunday is the Warriors' last home game this season and there is a clear desire in the playing group to repay their fans following another underwhelming season. It is also club stalwart Matulino's last home match for the club, along with former captain Ryan Hoffman. A number of players also remain unsigned beyond this season, giving the Warriors plenty of reason to feel motivated, even if the ladder doesn't agree.

Why the Sea Eagles can win: Manly have the kind of attack which could dish out all kinds of punishment on a frail defensive side like the Warriors. Heading into Round 25 the Sea Eagles have the fourth best attacking output in the NRL, averaging 23 points per game, while they break the line more than any team bar the Melbourne Storm and St George Illawarra Dragons. With Jake Trbojevic's ability to ball play in the middle of the park, the likes of Apisai Koroisau and Daly Cherry-Evans could have a field day in Auckland.

 

The History: Played 30; Sea Eagles 22; Warriors 8. Manly have a brilliant record against the Warriors, boasting six straight wins against them dating back to 2013, and beyond that have won 17 of their last 20 encounters against the Kiwi club. At Mount Smart Stadium, Manly have lost only three times in 14 visits.

What are the odds: Punters with Sportsbet are reluctant to back either of these sides, who have let them down a lot recently. The money is split 60/40 in favour of the Warriors, but it isn't the biggest betting game of the round. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.

Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant referee: Chris Sutton. Sideline officials: Chris McMillan and Clayton Sharpe. Review official: Luke Patten. Senior review official: Ashley Klein.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 2pm. Sky Sports – Live coverage from 4pm. 

NRL.com predicts: Manly have it all to play for and the Warriors have shown almost no improvement over the last two months, suggesting their drought-breaking victory might not come in 2017. Expect the Warriors to foot it with them early, but in the end a big Sea Eagles victory seems inevitable. Manly by 20.