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The Storylines: Last week’s flat loss to the Broncos has taken the edge off the Warriors’ blistering start to 2018, and it doesn’t get any easier this Friday night when they host their ultimate bogey team who are 6-0.

While it was far from the worst we’ve seen from the Warriors in recent years, the intensity, precision, concentration and physicality that underpinned their first five wins was sorely lacking. The Broncos dominated them in the middle of the park and the likes of Shaun Johnson struggled without a solid platform to work off.

Regaining that authority shapes as a tough ask against a red-hot Dragons side that boasts the best attack and second-best defence in the NRL, along with arguably the competition’s most formidable pack.

The Warriors have a shocking record against the Saints but this year’s team has made a habit of busting hoodoos.

Simon Mannering makes his first run-on appearance of the season on the left edge for the injured Leivaha Pulu, Solomone Kata is a possible starter but the likely outcome is (gulp) Anthony Gelling slotting in at left centre, and Albert Vete gets a bench call-up. The Dragons are unchanged.

The History: Played 26 – Dragons won 21, Warriors won 5

The Stats

-The Saints have won 13 of their last 14 against the Warriors, including six of their last seven in New Zealand.
-The Dragons are 6-4 at Mount Smart Stadium since 1999.
-The Warriors have scored more than 14 points just three times in their last 14 games against the Dragons, who scored 25-plus in nine of those encounters.
-Six of the teams’ last eight clashes have been decided by 13+, including the last four straight.

3 Key Match-ups

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Matt Dufty: RTS was the NRL’s hottest player across the opening three rounds but has been a bit quieter after picking up an elbow injury in the win over the Roosters. One of the Warriors’ best in the loss to the Broncos, the skipper needs to up his involvement again to counter a rampaging Dragons side. Saints’ livewire No.1 Dufty is enjoying a breakout season and sounded a warning with a sizzling double last week – the Warriors need to rough the young fullback up early.

Issac Luke v Cameron McInnes: Luke has been brilliant in 2018, but behind a beaten pack last week his impact was muted. The Warriors need Luke to turn the hulking Saints pack around with his dummy-half darts. A front-runner for the NSW Origin job, McInnes has played a key role in the Dragons’ unbeaten start – tackles all day and underrated with the ball in hand.

Adam Blair v Jack de Belin: Blair’s work (when not getting pass-happy) has been quality, we just need more of it – he is averaging just seven runs and 58 metres a game. Not good enough for a marquee forward slotting into workhorse Simon Mannering’s No.13 jumper. De Belin is demanding a Blues debut with another high-quality campaign.

Last Time They Met: Ben Matulino scored the opening try in his 200th game for the Warriors, but it was all downhill from there in a 30-14 loss to the Dragons in Hamilton characterised by dreadful defence and a Shaun Johnson shocker.

Why We’ll Win: A drop-off was inevitable and the Warriors were caught on the back foot by a desperate Broncos side. It was a handy reminder that if the two points won’t just get handed to them if they don’t turn up ready to play – so expect a bounce-back performance more reminiscent of the opening five rounds. While the Dragons have been super-impressive, this Auckland assignment is a big step up for them as well after predominantly beating up on teams trying to find their feet.

Why We’ll Lose: New teams, different players, records are meant to broken, yada, yada, yada – the Dragons’ hoodoo is real. For whatever reason, the Warriors have struggled against the Red V. And this is one of the best Saints sides the Warriors have ever encountered. Graham, Vaughan, Frizell and de Belin are an opposition pack’s worst nightmare, while Hunt and Dally M favourite Widdop are the NRL’s form halves pairing. It will take a significant turnaround from last week for the Warriors to avoid being lapped.

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Warriors $2.00, Dragons $1.75 (Line: Warriors +1.5).

The Warriors have covered just 4 of their last 16 at Mt Smart at night. The Warriors are 6-11 against the line at Mt Smart after conceding 25-plus. The Dragons have covered 8 of their last 10 off 3-plus wins. The under is 33-17 when the Dragons are playing away from their suburban home grounds including 18-6 under at night. The under is 23-11 when the Dragons conceded 20-plus in their game prior. FULL TAB PREVIEW

Tips – Warriors Win @ $2.00
Warriors 1-10 @ $3.50
Tri-Bet – Either 6 & Under or Draw @ $2.75
1st Try Scorer – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck @ $14
To Score a Try – Matt Dufty @ $2.20


The Verdict: Last week was a reality check but one that may ultimately improve the Warriors’ chances in this top-of-the-table showdown. If the Warriors had got over the Broncos and the drop-off occurred this week instead, the Dragons would’ve won by 30. Expect a far more focused and aggressive display collectively from the hosts on Friday. Almost unstoppable when they get on a roll, the Dragons have blinked when opposition sides stand up to them – as Souths did a fortnight ago – and they’ll get similar resistance from the Warriors here. It’ll be tight, but we’re confident the Warriors can inflict the Dragons’ first defeat of 2018 and reclaim a share of the competition lead. Warriors by 4

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