NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V GOLD COAST TITANS – 8PM (NZT)/6PM (AEDT) @ MOUNT SMART STADIUM, AUCKLAND
The Storylines: Any confidence built up by the Warriors’ season-opening demolition of Canterbury has disintegrated under the weight of back-to-back thrashings from Wests Tigers and Manly. The past fortnight has seen the club lose consecutive games by more than 20 points for the first time since 2015 (when Shaun Johnson was out injured…just sayin’).
But the 46-12 loss to the Sea Eagles was more than just a poor response to a bad game against the Tigers. The Warriors’ performance in Christchurch was inexcusable, displaying a glaring lack of desire, effort and pride in the jersey. Their defence was appalling, their attack pedestrian.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Isaiah Papali’i and Lachlan Burr were the only Warriors to emerge from the rout with their reputations intact. Yet coach Stephen Kearney has refused to bow to public pressure and take a hachet to his line-up.
This week already feels like do or die for the Warriors – their last two games had wooden spoon written all over them.
Ravaged by injuries in key positions, Gold Coast are the only winless team remaining in the NRL. But they looked anything but bottom feeders in a gutsy 28-20 loss to heavyweights Souths last Sunday.
A couple of key inclusions should have the Titans primed to get off the mark for 2019.
Ins and Outs: Inexplicably, rookie half Adam Keighran was the only Warriors player dropped after last week’s debacle. He is replaced in the No.6 by debutant Chanel Harris-Tavita, who turned 20 on Wednesday.
Ligi Sao’s outstanding Canterbury Cup form is rewarded with a bench spot at the expense of Gerard Beale, who sat unused in Christchurch despite the Warriors’ centres enduring a collective nightmare against Manly.
Issac Luke succumbs to the hamstring injury that saw him miss the entire second half in Christchurch, which brings handy back-up Karl Lawton into the side at hooker to face his former club.
The Titans are boosted by the return of first-choice halves Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor, with AJ Brimson reverting to the bench and Ryley Jacks dropping out of the 17.
Bench forward Moeaki Fotuaika is also back for the visitors after missing the Rabbitohs clash.
The History: Played 24 – Warriors won 16, Titans won 8
-The Warriors have won 14 of their last 16 against the Titans, including 7 of the last 8 at Mount Smart.
-The last four Auckland encounters between the clubs were decided by 1-12 margins.
-11 of the last 13 meetings have produced totals of 40-plus points.
-Tyrone Peachey has scored 8 tries in 8 career games against the Warriors.
-David Fusitu’a has scored 7 tries in 8 career games against the Titans.
-The Titans have won only 1 of their last 5 games on the road.
-The Warriors are on a 4-match winning streak at Mount Smart.
3 Key Match-ups
Chanel Harris-Tavita v Tyrone Roberts: Kearney’s dubious call to axe Keighran – and only Keighran – has pitched Harris-Tavita into the hot-seat, hoping to spark an attack that has lacked impetus and imagination. Ton of talent, but he’s on a hiding to nothing. Roberts’ return is a godsend for a Titans side that has lacked experience and direction; he knows how to win football games.
Adam Blair v Jai Arrow: Warriors fans are rightly turning the screws on the modestly-performing, highly-paid Blair. Arrow gives the Titans everything the Warriors are missing from their representative No.13. Blair averages 73 metres, gives away infuriating penalties and goes missing when the chips are down. Arrow averages 173.5 metres and plays every game likes it’s his last.
Solomone Kata/Peta Hiku v Tyrone Peachey: Peachey had a field day against the Warriors throughout his tenure at Penrith, including giving Kata a bath in last year’s finals encounter with a two-try blinder. It’s unclear at this stage whether he will be lining up against Kata or Hiku on Friday night. Either way, Peachey will be licking his turnstile-exploiting lips over this match-up. A repeat of last week’s showing from Kata or Hiku must result in a stint in reserve grade – it’s mind-boggling that it hasn’t already.
Last Time They Met: The also-ran Titans overcame a 12-8 halftime deficit to put the cleaners the Warriors on the Gold Coast, running away with a 36-12 victory as hot-stepping tyros AJ Brimson and Phillip Sami created havoc.
The Warriors have covered just 10 of 29 when favoured by 4 or more points. The Warriors have covered just 15 of 38 when favoured with a -19% POT in head-to-head betting. The Warriors have covered just 16 of 35 at Mt Smart. The under is 12-4 over the last four seasons when a favourite is off a loss of 30-plus. The Titans have covered 4 of 6 interstate when getting a start of 4 or more. The under is 37-20 when interstate teams play on a five-game turnaround.
TAB’s Best Bet: Titans +3.5 @ $1.90
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The Verdict: There’s a few factors working in the Warriors’ favour. A tremendous record in the rivalry. A good home record. A history of producing for their fans when seemingly at their lowest ebb (at this stage of the season anyway). But blind faith is the only reason I can find to back them. Kearney’s baffling loyalty to several D-grade performers is threatening to derail the season, though it could argued the club’s administration already did that by jettisoning Shaun Johnson. The Titans never throw in the towel, possess big, aggressive forwards, and are blessed with game-breakers right across the park. Right now, we’ve only got Roger. This is a grim, pessimistic forecast – but one reflective of the hole the Warriors find themselves in at present. Titans by 6