NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V WESTS TIGERS – 7.30PM (NZT)/5.30PM (AEST) SATURDAY, MAY 5 @ MOUNT SMART STADIUM
The Storylines: It’s been a long wait for atonement for the Warriors, spanked by a red-hot Melbourne Storm on Anzac Day and left with a 10-day turnaround to think about it.
Doomsayers were quick out of the blocks after the 50-10 drubbing, though it was effectively a four-try onslaught in eight minutes of the first half that decided the game.
The Warriors’ defence was brittle on the edges and everything the Storm touched turned to gold, but there were excuses: the early loss of Issac Luke on top of other big-name injuries, and their mammoth defensive effort just five days earlier against the Dragons. They also fought back gamely to lose the second half just 12-10.
Luke has been named but is at hundreds to play, putting the onus on likely replacement Karl Lawton. In good news, Shaun Johnson, Tohu Harris, Sol Kata and James Gavet are all back on deck.
Wests Tigers, reinvented as a gritty, wholehearted unit in 2018, are 5-3 – with all three of their losses coming by two-point margins. But they have lost their last two against Newcastle and Parramatta after holding leads late in both.
The ex-Warrior factor has been dulled somewhat by Russell Packer’s injury and Tui Lolohea’s relegation, but Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor and Pita Godinet are returning home in Tigers colours, coach Ivan Cleary and assistant Andrew Webster are former Warriors staffers, and there’s another five NZ-born players in the Tigers’ 17.
One of them, of course, is Benji Marshall, who is enjoying spectacular comeback season with the Tigers and slotted the winning field goal when they rolled the Storm at Mount Smart in Round 5. He’s also firming as Johnson’s halves partner for the Denver Test.
— Michael Johnstone (@michaeljnrl) May 1, 2018
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) May 1, 2018
The History: Played 28 – Wests Tigers won 15, Warriors won 13.
-The Tigers have won their last four against the Warriors and three of their last five at Mount Smart.
-The teams’ last six games have produced totals of 44 points or more.
-Eight points is the smallest margin in the clubs’ last seven meetings, but only two of the last 11 clashes have been decided by 13+.
-The Tigers are ranked third in defence and ninth in attack.
-The Warriors are ranked eighth in defence and fourth in attack.
-Just one of the Tigers’ games have been decided by more than 10 points in 2018, while six of the Warriors’ eight games have been decided by 1-12.
3 Key Match-ups
Solomone Kata v Esan Marsters: Kata returns from a two-game layoff and will have his hands full with the in-form Marsters. One of the best young backline prospects in the game, the big, skilful Marsters is knocking on the door of a Kiwis debut. Kata started the year in impressive touch but could be a bit off the pace.
Shaun Johnson v Luke Brooks: The Mason Lino hysteria died down after the Storm thrashing and most fans are relishing the return of linchpin Johnson, who has been superb in 2018 aside from perhaps the loss to Brisbane. Brooks has been thrown into the NSW halves mix after producing arguably the longest run of good form in his chequered career.
Bunty Afoa v Ben Matulino: After cutting his teeth on the Warriors’ edge, Afoa has been arguably the Warriors’ biggest overachiever stepping into the front-row breach left by departed veterans Matulino and Lillyman. Gets through a mountain of work and lacks nothing in the courage department. Matulino has been better since joining the Tigers after an uninspiring 2016-17 for the Warriors, but he still lacks the sting and skill that saw him widely regarded as one of the best props in the world not all that long ago.
Last Time They Met: Former Warriors coach Ivan Cleary took over the embattled Tigers early in 2017 and – with mid-season Warriors discard Tuimoala Lolohea scoring a memorable try and kicking four goals – steered the side to a 28-16 final-round win at Leichhardt Oval.
Why We’ll Win: It’s easy enough to write off the Storm loss, particularly with some big guns returning and the squad refreshed by a 10-day turnaround (the Tigers are on just a six-day turnaround). Complacency won’t be an issue and the Warriors have the grunt in the middle and the game-breakers across the part to get the job done.
Why We’ll Lose: The Tigers just don’t go away, leading every game they’ve played this season inside at least the last 10 minutes. It will be a big ask for the Warriors to out-enthuse the Tigers like they’ve done to most teams this season, while the likes of Marshall, Marsters, Brooks and Thompson can all turn a game with a piece of brilliance.
"It hasn't distracted us one bit." – Blair.#NRLWarriorsTigers
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) May 3, 2018
The Wests Tigers have covered 11 of their last 13 as an underdog. The Tigers have covered 15 of their last 18 as an underdog of 4 or more. The Warriors have covered just 5 of their last 18 at Mt Smart as a favourite. The Warriors have covered just 2 of their last 12 at Mt Smart as a favourite of 4 or more. FULL TAB PREVIEW
$10 on this week's Radio Sport NZ Rambler Multi could return you $199.00.
— TAB Sport (@TAB_Sport) May 2, 2018
The Verdict: After a flat loss to the Broncos in Round 6, the Warriors responded with one of the gutsiest wins in their history just six days later against the Dragons. Expect a similar bounce-back effort this Saturday against a Tigers side that has struggled to ice their recent games. Warriors by 10