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The Storylines: The byes and rep interruptions are all out of the way for the Warriors – now they face a 10-week test of nerve to see if they can convert a stellar 10-4 start into a long-awaited return to the finals.

But the Denver Test may still have ramifications on their line-up this weekend, with Kiwis trio Issac Luke, Ken Maumalo and Peta Hiku named on an extended bench. If they are rested, Karl Lawton will start at hooker with Sam Cook joining the bench, and Anthony Gelling will slot in at centre with Gerard Beale on the wing.

David Fusitu’a and Solomone Kata, who both missed Tonga’s Test last weekend through injury, have both been named.

There’s just as much interest surrounding Cronulla’s line-up, though, with mid-season acquisition Aaron Woods coming straight into the 17 just three days after lobbing in the Shire.

Origin stars Valentine Holmes and Matt Prior will back up but the Sharks are missing big names Luke Lewis and Wade Graham, leaving Kurt Capewell and Scott Sorensen to form a young second-row pairing.

The Warriors ended a lengthy win-loss-win-loss pattern with excellent back-to-back wins over Manly and North Queensland at Christchurch and Townsville respectively.

But after heavy defeats to Melbourne, Sydney Roosters and Souths – the latter two in their most recent outings at Mount Smart – the Warriors will be eager to prove themselves against the seventh-placed Sharks, who many are touting as genuine contenders.

Meanwhile, a loss could see them tumble out of the top four.

Cronulla has won seven of its last nine but were disappointing at home in a 20-16 loss to Brisbane prior to rep round.

Matching the Sharks’ middle men Prior, Woods, Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen will be the Warriors’ top priority after being steamrolled by the Roosters’ and Rabbitohs’ big packs in recent times.

The History: Played 37 – Cronulla won 21, Warriors won 16.

The Stats

-The Sharks have won eight of their last 10 against the Warriors, including four of their last five at Mount Smart.
-In those 10 meetings, the Warriors did not score more than 20 points and were held to 14 or less on six occasions.
-Five of the teams’ last seven games were decided by four points or less.
-The Warriors are 4-3 at Mount Smart Stadium this season; the Sharks are 4-3 on the road.
-The Warriors are ranked eighth in attack and sixth in defence; the Sharks are ranked seventh in attack and defence.
-The Sharks have been restricted to 16 points or less on eight occasions in 2018; the Warriors have scored 18-plus points in all but three of their 14 games.

3 Key Match-ups

Simon Mannering v Paul Gallen: Will this be the last time the old warhorses square off? Mannering is back in the No.13 jumper for the first time since last season following Adam Blair’s suspension and the Warriors’ can (finally) count on some high production from their starting lock. Gallen has been inspirational again for the Sharks this year despite approaching his 37th birthday.

Shaun Johnson v Matt Moylan: Different numbers on their backs, but their respective sides will be relying on the game-breakers to conjure scoring opportunities. Johnson made a blistering return from injury against Manly before playing a crucial, controlled role in the tense win over North Queensland. Moylan has bounced around the team sheet since joining the Sharks but Shane Flanagan has settled on him at five-eighth – with mixed results so far. The Warriors found Moylan a serial pest during his time at Penrith, however, and need to keep the playmaker on a short leash.

Solomone Kata V Jesse Ramien: Kata pulled a hammy while bombing a try in Townsville so it was something of a surprise to see him named this week – and he can’t afford to be anything less than 100 percent up against Cronulla powerhouse Ramien. The Newcastle-bound 21-year-old has scored eight tries this year and on the strength of his current form, it would have been a no-brainer to pick him in the Blues’ backline ahead of James Roberts if he had a couple more years’ experience under his belt. Ramien has the potential to tear any opponent apart.

Last Time They Met: The Sharks cruised to a 26-12 win at Mount Smart in Round 21 last year as the Warriors’ shocking losing streak to finish 2017 gathered steam.

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Warriors $1.95, Sharks $1.80 (Line: Warriors +1.5)

The Sharks are 17-8 against the line when an underdog away from Shark Park. Cronulla are 12-4 against the line as a road underdog off scoring 16+ points. The Warriors have covered just 2 of 10 at Mt Smart of back-to-back wins. Interstate underdogs of 3.5 or less are 69-33 against the line since 2013. FULL TAB PREVIEW  | TAB PUNTERS LOUNGE – NRL

Tips – Warriors Win @ $1.95
Warriors 12 & Under @ $3.10
Either 6 & Under or Draw @ $2.60
To Score a Try – Simon Mannering @ $6.50


The Verdict: It’s another test of character for the Warriors, who got back on track impressively between their two byes but are faced with several line-up disruptions. Luke’s availability shapes as the key. But if they can hold the rugged Sharks in the middle, shut down their second-phase and get some of their own going, the Warriors have the edge attacking-wise across the spine and in scoring strike out wide – assuming ‘Fus’ is good to go. The Warriors have won every game decided by eight points or less they’ve been involved in this year, so if they can match the visitors in the grind – a Sharks speciality – they’ll be confident in Johnson and co. icing the result. Warriors by 4


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