NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V CANBERRA RAIDERS – 8:00PM (NZT)/6:00PM (AEST), FRIDAY, AUGUST 31 @ MOUNT SMART STADIUM
The Storylines: The Mannering mania that has unfolded this week is almost like nothing else we’ve seen in New Zealand sport before. The match sold out 48 hours in advance, tributes have flooded in from everywhere – and for good reason: it’s not every week your most decorated player becomes the first to bring 300 first-grade appearance for your club. And it’s his last official home game in front of the Mount Smart faithful.
The team wore their #Mannering300 tees at training🤘💯🔥
100 exclusive Mannering 300 tees available only at the game this Friday. 👀 pic.twitter.com/8JWPtFeFV4
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) August 29, 2018
But there’s more at stake on Friday than sentiment and recognition for a true legend.
There’s too many potential permutations that could unfold during Round 25 to lay out here, and all of the games that will affect the Warriors’ finishing position are all played later in the weekend. But there’s no doubt the best result – even if the Warriors have to play the in-form Broncos away in week one of the finals – is a strong, momentum-building victory against Canberra.
The loss to Canterbury in Round 24 was a blip in an otherwise outstanding month for the Warriors, culminating in an emphatic 36-16 win over Penrith to confirm the end of their seven-year finals absence. Shaun Johnson put on a master-class despite Blake Green being sidelined, while Tohu Harris made a tremendous return from a two-month injury layoff.
Green won’t be risked this week, giving Mason Lino – who was excellent against the Panthers – another NRL chance. James Gavet, another standout last week, is a late withdrawal, bringing Bunty Afoa into the starting side and Leivaha Pulu onto the bench.
The Raiders are well-placed to play the role of party poopers. The competition’s least clutch team tumbled out of top-eight contention with four straight losses, before upsetting Sydney Roosters and South Sydney in the past fortnight.
Both of those boilovers were at GIO Stadium, however, and the inscrutable Raiders have been awful on the road in 2018.
The Warriors’ best will be too much for the Raiders to handle in front of a baying Mount Smart crowd, but stringing high-quality performances together has been a problem for most of the season. With a historic finals campaign just around the corner, now would be a great time to discover week-to-week consistency.
The History: Played 39 – Raiders won 21, Warriors won 18.
-The Raiders have won four of their last five against the Warriors, including their last two in New Zealand.
-Six of the teams’ last 10 encounters produced 46-plus points.
-The Raiders have scored at least 19 points in their last five games against the Warriors.
-The Warriors have won nine of their last 12 against the Raiders at Mount Smart.
-This is the first time the Raiders have gone into a match against the Warriors without Jarrod Croker – the rivalry’s top pointscorer (158) and equal-top tryscorer (17) – since 2008.
-Seven of the Warriors’ first 10 wins in 2018 were by 1-12 margins, but three of the last four came by 16 or more.
-The Warriors have won their last two at Mount Smart after going 4-5 at their home base up to Round 19.
-The Raiders are a dismal 3-8 away from Canberra this season.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) August 29, 2018
3 Key Match-ups
Issac Luke v Josh Hodgson: Luke has rarely been anything less than brilliant in 2018 and he’ll relish this one-on-one battle with one of the wiliest No.9s around. Hodgson has had a massive impact on the Raiders since returning from injury mid-season and is the player the Warriors must shut down.
Simon Mannering v Josh Papalii: The man of the moment has bounced around the team sheet a bit this year, producing some typically outstanding performances and a couple of uncharacteristically poor ones. He looks set to go through to the end of the season in the No.13 jumper and the Warriors need his best from here on out. Queensland stalwart Papalii is always a handful.
David Fusitu’a v Nick Cotric: Two of the NRL’s most devastating finishers lock horns in a mouth-watering wing duel. Fusitua’s hat-trick last week took him back to the top of the leaderboard with 21 tries; Cotric has bagged 12 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign but offers more than ‘Fus’ as a broken-field runner.
Simon Mannering's career workload – 28km running metres, 9,600 tackles, 900,000 km in travel https://t.co/SXQOpRLgbh
— nzherald (@nzherald) August 29, 2018
Last Time They Met: Shaun Johnson kicked two field goals in the last two minutes as the Warriors pegged back a 13-point deficit to grab a miracle win in Canberra, giving them a historic 3-0 start to 2018.
The Raiders have covered 17 of 26 as an outsider of 4 or more points. The Raiders are 10-4 against the line as an outsider of 4 or more off a win. The Raiders have covered 6 of their last 8 off a win and since 2015 have the best cover rate off a win at 59%. The Raiders have covered 28 of 47 interstate. The Raiders have covered 7 of 10 off conceding 12 or fewer. The Warriors are 13-18 against the line as a favourite at Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered just 4 of 14 at Mt Smart as a favourite of 4 or more. The over is 31-16 when the Raiders play on the road.
One punter stands to make $4,000 if David Fusitu'a stays atop the NRL try scoring ladder this weekend.
Check out other big bets riding on the final week of the regular season here: https://t.co/xvctMPtxIR
— TAB Sport (@TAB_Sport) August 30, 2018
Big support for the @SSFCRABBITOHS and @NZWarriors this week, while one punter has thrown down on a dream hat-trick for milestone man Simon Mannering. Presented by our pals at @TAB_Sport. #TAB #NRL #NRLWarriorsRaiders #Mannering300 #ThisWarriorsLife https://t.co/FNYPWEvvMK
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) August 30, 2018
The Verdict: The Raiders are a dangerous opponent – as they’ve shown by rolling a couple of heavyweights recently – but they stink away from the Australian capital. The Warriors have quelled their mid-season Mount Smart blues and will have a tidal wave of support behind them. Despite already clinching a finals spot and the distraction of this week’s Mannering-a-thon, their intensity and focus should be at their optimum level. Count on the Warriors getting the job done well as the Raiders play a mere support role in the home side’s celebration of one of the greats. Warriors by 12
Around the grounds
Rabbitohs v Tigers: This game won’t affect the Warriors, but with the Rabbitohs being a potential week two finals opponent we wouldn’t mind seeing their losing streak extend to four games. Tip: Tigers +6.5 @ $1.87
Storm v Panthers: The Storm are looking to seal yet another minor premiership – and if they do, it would be very handy for the Warriors, who are locked on 30 points with the Panthers but have an inferior for-and-against. The Panthers are mess and this should be a training run for Melbourne. Tip: Storm 13 & Over @ $3.50
Knights v Dragons: Another game Warriors fans will be riding hard. The Knights are limping towards Mad Monday after losing Kalyn Ponga to injury but they are playing better than the Dragons, who have gone off the rails completely. They’re ahead of the Warriors on for-and-against, however, and a Knights win would be extremely helpful. We’re thinking the Dragons bounce back here, though. Tip: Dragons Win @ $1.75
Titans v Cowboys: One last opportunity to watch JT’s mastery in action. Tip: Cowboys 12 & Under @ $3.00
Eels v Roosters: The Eels had shown some late-season promise before getting pumped by the Cowboys last week. The Roosters have lost two in a row and will be hell-bent on regaining some momentum ahead of the finals. Tip: Roosters 13 & Over @ $1.87
Bulldogs v Sharks: No one will be looking forward to playing the Bulldogs at present, despite their 12th-place standing. The Dogs have won four of their last five, including three wins against finalists. The Sharks are in ominous touch but the salary cap scrutiny this week was a case of disastrous timing. If the Sharks lose by a landslide and the Warriors win by plenty, get the calculators out because we could be headed to the top four. Tip: Bulldogs Win @ $2.55
Broncos v Sea Eagles: The on-fire Broncos are a mere three for-and-against points ahead of the Warriors, which means the result of this match could be critical to securing a home final. The Sea Eagles have shown a fair bit of character despite their dramas, but they’re unlikely to jag a win – despite the Broncos’ poor record against bottom-eight teams. Tip: Sea Eagles +10.5 @ $1.87