Warriors v Raiders NRL preview
Saturday 5pm (NZT)
Two sides with so much promise yet so little to show for it go head-to-head on Saturday when the Warriors host the Raiders at Eden Park.
Despite being responsible for some of the best attacking moments of the 2014 season, after eight rounds these two teams sit next to each other near the bottom of the NRL ladder. The Raiders are in 14th and the Warriors 13th, sharing the same 3-5 record.
While the New Zealanders travelled to Melbourne and came away with a morale-boosting 16-10 victory two weeks ago, the Raiders were flogged 54-18 by Manly in their last outing, allowing their opponents to score more than a point a minute in the first half.
The Warriors have all of their players who were involved in last Friday’s Test backing up, although youngster Siliva Havili has dropped straight back to the NSW Cup with a couple of more experienced faces returning to the side.
Young winger David Fusitua is out with a shoulder injury, which sees Ngani Laumape shift onto the wing and Konrad Hurrell start at right centre. Ben Matulino and Sione Lousi return to the interchange after serving suspensions, while Kevin Locke, who earlier this week penned a deal with Salford in the Super League for next season, is 18th man.
Italian World Cup representative Paul Vaughan is promoted to the starting squad for the Raiders, along with Dane Tilse. That sees Josh Papalii and David Shillington shunted to the bench, while Kyle O’Donnell replaces the injured Shannon Boyd.
Watch Out Warriors: Despite their lowly position on the ladder, the Raiders have lost back-to-back games only once this season, tending to rebound positively after what we assume is a quality spray from coach Ricky Stuart. Losing is hard to forget, being embarrassed by 36 points is even tougher to clear from the mind. The Raiders won’t have any trouble getting fired up for this one.
Don’t expect a reprieve when State of Origin tried players Brett White, Shillington and Papalii are off the field; the Raiders are getting great value out of their lesser-known men so far this year too. Last week, in a badly-beaten side, Vaughan ran for more than 100 metres in just 30 minutes on the park and this week is rewarded with a start in the second row. Meanwhile, lock Shaun Fensom is fast cementing his reputation as one of the most reliable players in the competition. In seven games this year he averages 46 tackles and has missed only six in total.
Watch Out Raiders: The Warriors gained a huge confidence boost from their win over the Storm two weeks ago and history shows a victory in Melbourne mid-season can inspire them to some lofty heights. In 2011, a win in the traditional Anzac Day game stirred them to a five-game winning streak en route to a grand final appearance. In two of their past three seasons the club has gone on a five-game winning run after Round 7; is history about to be repeated?
The Green Machine were run ragged in their last game by a young halfback with pace and confidence. On that occasion it was Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans but the description also fits this week’s opponent Shaun Johnson, who will be looking to emulate his Australian counterpart’s effort of four try assists and two line breaks. The Raiders need to greatly improve their defence in the middle if they want to avoid another embarrassment.
Plays To Watch: Fullbacks chiming into the backline as another playmaking option is nothing new in today’s game but few do it better than these two teams. It helps that they possess genuine threats at the back in Sam Tomkins and Anthony Milford, who are equally talented in assisting their teammates as they are in ducking over for a four-pointer themselves.
Watch out too for plenty of close-range drives from the big mobile forward packs both sides contain. Vaughan did it for the Raiders against the Storm a few weeks ago to score the winning try, while men like Suaia Matagi and Sebastine Ikahihifo for the Warriors also have the size and footwork to threaten.
Where It Will Be Won: Both sides sit among the worst defensively in the NRL, with Canberra leaking more tries (36) than any other outfit in the competition. The Warriors haven’t been much better, averaging 30 missed tackles through their opening eight matches.
With the talent both teams have it seems unlikely points will be hard to come by, so whoever can come up with the goods in defence will go a long way to winning at Eden Park.
The History: Played 30; Raiders 17, Warriors 13. The last time these two clashed on Kiwi soil it was a bitter old day for the Raiders, going down 50-16 in the final regular season game of 2013. Although the overall head-to-head record sits in Canberra’s favour, only six of their 17 victories have come in Auckland and only two of them happened in the last 13 years.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Morris and Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis and Dan Eastwood; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton and Reece Williams.
Televised: Sky Sport 2 - Live 3pm (NZT); Fox Sports - Live 5pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: Neither of these teams inspire too much confidence when it comes to tipping and their form is all over the place. Canberra find it hard to win in Auckland and face a Warriors team still flying high from an upset win on Anzac Day. Momentum is an important thing in rugby league and right now the New Zealand club have some, so expect them to finally break their Eden Park hoodoo and win this one by eight points.