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The Storylines: The first half of the Warriors’ 2018 season is in the books and they’re ideally placed in the top four, just one win off the competition lead.

But they also went into their first bye off an insipid 30-10 loss to Souths – their third defeat by 20-plus points as inconsistency starts to undermine their outstanding start.

Now they have to contend with the dual hoodoos of Manly and a woeful record at venues in New Zealand not named Mount Smart Stadium, with the Sea Eagles taking their home game to Christchurch’s AMI Stadium – or Rugby League Park, as it is known to the dyed-in-the-wool 13-a-side fans down south.

Shaun Johnson makes a long-awaited return for just his seventh appearance of the season, aiming for his sixth win. But Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is out with an ankle complaint as the Warriors’ injury frustrations continue, with Peta Hiku again shifted to fullback and Gerard Beale filling in at centre.

The Sea Eagles are hovering around must-win territory as far as their finals hopes are concerned, sitting on a dismal 4-9 record after following up their heart-breaking 21-20 loss in Canberra with a 26-12 defeat to North Queensland.

But they are set to have NSW Blues brothers Tom and Jake Trbojevic on deck to back up talisman Daly Cherry-Evans, who has been the Warriors’ kryptonite throughout his career.

It’s a pivotal week in both teams’ seasons.


The History: Played 31 – Manly won 23, Warriors won 8.



The Stats

-Manly has won 13 of its last 14 against the Warriors – including the last seven straight.
-The Warriors have won just six of 28 matches in New Zealand away from Mount Smart Stadium.
-The Warriors have a 2-4 record in Christchurch.
-Seven of the teams’ 10 encounters since the 2011 grand final have been decided by 10 points or less, including five by margins of four or less.
-The Sea Eagles are 7-0 against the Warriors in matches at ‘neutral’ venues.
-The Warriors are 5-1 away from Auckland in 2018 (after going 1-12 last season).
-Manly is 2-6 away from Brookvale Oval in 2018.
-The Warriors have not lost back-to-back games this season.
-Daly Cherry-Evans has a 10-1 record against the Warriors.


3 Key Match-ups

Shaun Johnson v Daly Cherry-Evans: SJ makes a timely return to spark a Warriors attack that has run out of ideas in recent outings, but after five weeks on the sidelines he could be short of a gallop. DCE has tortured the Warriors ever since his 2011 rookie season, whether it be with match-winning tries or golden point field goals. They’ve both got steady five-eighth lieutenants in Green and Hodkinson, so whichever No.7 can pull out the big plays might just decide this one.

James Gavet v Martin Taupau: Big Marty Tapau ranks fifth in the NRL for run metres, averaging 152 per game, and leads the competition for offloads. The Warriors have struggled with big, mean Roosters and Rabbitohs packs in recent weeks and need to blunt Taupau’s impact. Gavet is the Warriors’ baddest forward but he hasns’t shown it yet in 2018, producing solid performances that have lacked the fire he brought last year. As a starting prop, the Warriors need more from their enforcer.

Adam Blair v Jake Trbojevic: Blair’s No.13 match-up with NSW star Jake Trbojevic presents similar problems for the Warriors as the Gavet-Taupau duel and is just as important to the outcome of this match. Recently Blair has been attempting to copy Trbojevic’s extra playmaker role on attack without replicating the Manly workhorse’s industrious efforts everywhere else on the park. It’s a big test for Jake T, however, less than 72 hours after Origin I.

Last Time They Met: Daly Cherry-Evans kicked an equalising field goal late in regulation time and potted another one-pointer in golden point to snatch a dramatic 22-21 win at Mount Smart in Round 25 last year, consigning the Warriors to their eighth straight loss.

Why We’ll Win: The Warriors have had the bye week to recalibrate and rest their battered bodies, while Johnson’s return is a huge plus. Taupau aside, the Sea Eagles don’t have the same sort of forward punch that has troubled the Warriors over the last month or so, while two of their three best players are backing up from Origin and they are still battling an injury crisis. The Warriors’ ability to bounce back from a loss has been an impressive feature of their campaign so far and holds them in good stead here.

Why We’ll Lose: The Warriors can deny it all they like, but a 6-1-21 record around New Zealand and a 1-13 record against the Sea Eagles definitely play on the psyche of the team. Manly is a desperate team laced with game-breakers and they’ll be taking plenty of pride in this as their home game and the club’s blossoming partnership with Christchurch.

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Sea Eagles $2.25, Warriors $1.60 (Line: Sea Eagles +3.5).

Manly have covered four straight away from Brookvale; Manly are 19-12 against the line as an underdog away from Brookvale; The Warriors have covered just 6 of 16 away from Mt Smart off a double digit loss; The Warriors have won just 5 of 16 at non-Mt Smart New Zealand venues since 2008. FULL TAB PREVIEW

Tips – Warriors 12 & Under @ $2.90
Manly/Warriors @ $8.00
Under 37.5 Points @ $1.82
Either 6 & Under or Draw @ $2.70
Shaun Johnson to Score a Try @ $3.00
Daly Cherry-Evans to Score a Try @ $4.00


The Verdict: It’s hard not to feel uneasy seeing the opposition wearing maroon-and-white jerseys – regardless of their position on the ladder – when the Warriors are trying to chip into a horrific NZ alternate venue record, especially without our skipper on deck. But it’s another chance for the Warriors to prove they are a more resilient outfit in 2018. They’ve already smashed a couple of hoodoos this year – first-ever win in Perth to break a six-match losing streak against Souths, a rare victory against the Saints and consecutive wins in Sydney for the first time in donkeys – and should be able to outlast the Sea Eagles if they can get the better of the battle up front. Warriors by 7


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