NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS – 5PM (NZT)/3PM (AEST) @ SUNSHINE COAST STADIUM, KAWANA WATERS
The Storylines: Praise for the Warriors’ 26-10 bounce-back win over Gold Coast was muted to say the least. Largely because the Titans were awful and there was still a fair bit of clunkiness about the Warriors’ performance.
But it was an important circuit-breaker after two shocking displays against Wests Tigers and Manly. A step in the right direction.
Chanel Harris-Tavita appears to possess the spark the Warriors are short on. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has not lost one bit of his Dally M form. Blake Green was excellent against the Titans. Bunty Afoa and Tohu Harris are standouts in a pack that still needs to improve across the board.
The jury is still out, but the potential is there.
South Sydney represent by far their biggest test to date. Wayne Bennett’s side shapes as a genuine title contender, they boast a blue-chip halves pairing, arguably the game’s most dynamic hooker and a giant pack that steamrolled the Warriors in Auckland last year.
The Rabbitohs are also bristling from a golden point loss to the Sea Eagles. They’ll be hell-bent on adding two competition points to the bank the club is making from taking their home game to the Sunshine Coast.
Ins and Outs: The only personnel change in the Warriors’ line-up sees Sam Lisone return from suspension in the place of an unlucky Ligi Sao in that contentious fourth bench spot.
Curiously, Adam Blair returns to the starting side as an edge second-rower with Isaiah Papali’i moving back to the bench. Issac Luke was named in the reserves, but after Jazz Tevaga escaped suspension the Warriors are unlikely to risk him. Tevaga and Karl Lawton were both excellent at dummy-half last week.
Greg Inglis remains on the sidelines – and the surprise centre selection this week is hardworking back-rower Kyle Turner. Liam Knight returns from suspension on the bench, with Jacob Gagan – centre last week but battling concussion – dropping out.
The History: Played 33 – Warriors won 19, Rabbitohs won 14
-Souths have won 7 of their last 8 against the Warriors.
-The Rabbitohs have scored at least 20 points in each of their last 9 games against the Warriors.
-The teams’ last 10 encounters have produced totals of at least 40 points.
-The margin was at least 12 points in the rivals’ last 7 clashes.
-The Warriors are on a 4-match losing streak away from Auckland.
-The Rabbitohs have lost their last 3 matches outside Sydney.
-The Warriors have won just 10 of 42 regular-season games at neutral venues in their history.
3 Key Match-ups
Chanel Harris-Tavita v Cody Walker: CHT was understated but impressive on NRL debut last week, racking up more tackles (24) and metres (71) than any Warriors half in a game this season. He just looks the goods. But the 20-year-old faces a far more strenuous test this weekend – not least of all in the shape of his opposing No.6, electric game-breaker Cody Walker. Walker has three tries in four games against the Warriors.
Karl Lawton v Damien Cook: Back-up utility Lawton was impressive against his old club on Friday, giving good service and making inroads out of dummy-half. A valuable player to have in the ranks. Cook became an elite player in 2018 and already has three try-assists this year, as well as averaging 86 metres and 40-plus tackles. Lawton needs to ensure the gap between what he offers and how Cook influences the contest is as small as possible.
Lachlan Burr v Cameron Murray: Burr has become a favourite of Kearney’s with his reliable efforts to date this season. After Bunty Afoa, he has probably been the Warriors’ most consistent and hardest-working forward. But he is undeniably limited. The same can’t be said of Murray, a bona fide contender for the NSW No.13 jumper this year. He is a superstar in the making and has made a line-break in each of his last three outings, as well as averaging almost 150 metres a game.
Last Time They Met: The Rabbitohs avenged a shock opening-round loss to the Warriors in Perth by dishing out a 30-10 hiding at Mount Smart Stadium in Round 12 last year.
Souths have covered 7 of 11 after conceding 13 or fewer. Souths have covered just 5 of 14 as a favourite off a loss. New Zealand have covered just 2 of their last 8 games in Australia. New Zealand are 2-7 ATS interstate off conceding 12 or fewer. The over is 10-6 when Souths are favoured by 6.5 or more. Souths have gone under in five straight day games. The over is 20-12 in Warriors day games. The under is 13-2 when the Warriors are an underdog of 8 or more in Australia.
TAB’s Best Bet: Rabbitohs -8.5 @ $1.90
The Verdict: We’ve been waiting anxiously for this litmus test. The Warriors were handed a very soft early draw and their 2-2 record was a subpar outcome. They submitted with barely a whimper when the Tigers and Sea Eagles stood up to them – and there’s no way this Rabbitohs side rolls over. The size mismatch in the forwards is a concern, but the Warriors have a back-three advantage and a halves pairing coming off a fine performance. The Warriors need a statement performance and they won’t get a better opportunity to produce one. Warriors by 4