NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS – 8.00PM (NZT)/6.00PM (AEST) FRIDAY, AUGUST 10 AT MOUNT SMART STADIUM
The Storylines: The Warriors are back in the good books after a heroic, hoodoo-busting 18-12 defeat of the Dragons in Wollongong. Their defensive performance defied the second-half capitulation on the Gold Coast six days earlier, while the result all but confirmed the club’s place in the playoffs.
But an upset loss to 11th-placed Newcastle on Friday night would put the Warriors’ top-eight bid back on tenterhooks. On the other hand, a win keeps them in the top-four mix – despite sitting eighth, they are just two points shy of the fourth-placed Saints.
It’s a key opportunity for the Warriors to build some momentum after losing four of their last six games and posting back-to-back victories just once since Round 5. They are also looking to arrest a frustrating four-game losing streak at Mount Smart.
The 8-12 Knights are coming off consecutive losses to North Queensland and Wests Tigers, and have only notched one win against one of the current top-eight teams (Brisbane in Round 3). Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce are under injury clouds, but their presence ensures the out-of-contention Knights can’t be underestimated.
The Warriors had a win and a loss at the judiciary, with Bunty Afoa cleared and Sam Lisone copping another ban. Peta Hiku is the curious bench replacement in an otherwise unchanged line-up, with Tohu Harris still a week or two away from a return.
The Round 20 debacle against the Titans was the Warriors’ only loss to a bottom-eight team; a second upset loss would be an excruciating step backwards.
It’s also Women In League Round, with the Warriors women’s team – including Isaiah Papali’i’s mum – playing a curtain-raiser.
Stoked with the NZ cover for @bigleaguemag Women In League round – loved putting together this story with the Papali'is and @NZWarriors women's coach Lusia Avaiki. Wish I could take credit for the headline but it was all @davepiepers #bigleaguemag #nrl #WomenInLeague pic.twitter.com/5rATdcXwea
— Will Evans (@WillEvansRL) August 8, 2018
The story behind our #WomenInLeague jersey which will be worn during this Friday's Women In League match against the Knights.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) August 8, 2018
The History: Played 38 – Warriors won 19, Knights won 18, draws 1.
-The Warriors have won 11 of their last 15 against Newcastle, including the last five straight at Mount Smart.
-Just two of the last 10 games between the clubs has produced less than 40 points.
-Neither side has been restricted to a single-figure score in the last 14 encounters.
-The Warriors have scored 18 points or more in 19 of their last 22 clashes with the Knights.
-David Fusitu’a has scored 10 tries in five career appearances against Newcastle.
3 Key Match-ups
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Kalyn Ponga: Two of the leading contenders for the Dally M Medal and arguably the two best steppers in the NRL square off in a mouth-watering fullback duel. Both are devastating ball-runners, and while Ponga provides the Knights with another top-shelf ball-playing option, RTS is the best try-saving No.1 in the game. Ponga returns to Mount Smart for the first time since accepting an invite to a Kiwis training session prior to departing on their 2015 tour of England and doing the haka in his gruts.
Isaiah Papali’i v Lachlan Fitzgibbon: Tow of the best young back-rowers in the game lock horns. The 19-year-old Papali’i is a hardworking brute on both sides of the ball who can pop an offload, while Fitzgibbon has scored 18 tries in his last 33 first-grade games.
Issac Luke v Danny Levi: Just 10 months ago, Levi usurped Luke in the New Zealand World Cup squad. The tables have turned in 2018 with veteran Luke enjoying an incredible renaissance to take back his Test jumper and Levi only getting the Knights’ No.9 jumper back after a season-ending injury to recent Kiwis debutant Slade Griffin. It’s another classic master-and-apprentice battle, with Luke also celebrating his 250-game milestone in the NRL.
— Joyce Putohe (@JoycePutohe) August 7, 2018
Last Time They Met: The slumping Warriors were embarrassed 26-10 by a Knights outfit on their way to a third straight wooden spoon in Round 22 last year.
The Warriors have covered just 11 of 29 as a favourite at Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered just 6 of 20 home night games. The Knights have covered just 11 of 30 road games as an underdog of 8+. The over is 9-4 when the Warriors are favoured by 8+. The over is 15-7 in Knights interstate games.
The Verdict: The Warriors head into this clash bigger favourites than at any stage this season, which is not an overly familiar or comfortable position for this team. But all signs point to a comfortable win, particularly if they can blot out Pearce and Ponga. Anything coming close to the defensive resolve they showed against the Dragons should lay the platform for the Warriors to pile on the points against a Knights side that has leaked the most points in the NRL in 2018. Warriors by 16
Around the grounds
Cowboys v Broncos: Thurston’s last Queensland derby and the Cowboys have put up some decent performances in recent weeks, while the Broncos remain impossible to get a read on. A Broncos loss would be very, very handy for the Warriors’ prospects of climbing up the ladder. Tip: Cowboys win @ $2.15
Rabbitohs v Roosters: The NRL’s most bitter rivalry sees both teams in great form and both with a red-hot chance at a minor premiership. A brilliant game to settle into after (hopefully) a Warriors victory. Tip: Rabbitohs win @ $1.82
Titans v Panthers: Penrith has been in the news all week and this road trip could go either way for the club. As the Warriors found out, the Titans are a dangerous outfit. The Panthers’ get-out-of-jail efforts have been remarkable (and frustrating from a Warriors perspective) but we get the feeling they’ll run out of steam here. Tip: Titans +7.5 @ $1.87
Sea Eagles v Bulldogs: These teams did the Warriors massive favours last week with stunning upsets of the Sharks and Broncos, but it’s hard to get excited about this 13 v 14 showdown. Tip: Either Team 6 & Under or Draw @ $2.80
Eels v Dragons: The Eels are on a late-season surge, the Dragons are on the slide big-time. A Parra win would give the Warriors a chance to leapfrog the Saints next week. Get in! Tip: Eels +6.5 @ $1.87
Raiders v Tigers: The Raiders blew another one last week against the Panthers, while the Tigers are still hanging around in ninth like a bad smell. But what effect does the Ivan Cleary saga have on the squad? It will be nothing if not entertaining. Tip: Tigers +4.5 @ $1.82
Storm v Sharks: Big game for both sides, but especially the Sharks after last week’s loss to Manly allowed the Warriors to catch up. All going to plan they’ll be behind us at the end of Round 22. Tip: Melbourne 12 & Under @ $2.80