NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS – 4:00PM (NZT)/2:00PM (AEST) @ MOUNT SMART STADIUM, AUCKLAND
The Storylines: The undermanned Warriors restored pride in the jersey last week in a 13-12 Anzac Day loss in Melbourne that was little short of heroic. A mammoth defensive effort put the battling in the frame for a famous upset, but they were cruelled by dodgy refereeing decisions.
Patrick Herbert produced arguably the greatest first-grade debut by a Warriors player, while Peta Hiku and Tohu Harris rose to the occasion out of their usual positions.
But the subsequent goodwill doesn’t change the fact the Warriors are 2-5 – despite playing five of last-year’s non-finalists, only one of whom currently sit in the Top 8 – and mired in a seven-team logjam for last place. This week is absolutely must-win.
The problem is the Newcastle Knights have also only won two games and are equally desperate.
The Knights are are coming off a stirring 28-14 win over in-form Parramatta, snapping a five-match losing streak in the process.
The visitors are unchanged, while the Warriors welcome back a stack of big guns. The Kodi Nikorima story – with the enigmatic Broncos and Kiwis halfback set to join the Warriors next week, splitting public and pundit opinion – creates something of an unwanted distraction for the hosts.
Stripping away all of the external factors, the loser of this game can just about start locking in a venue for their post-season piss-up for early-September.
Ins and Outs: Blake Green, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and David Fusitu’a return in a three-pronged boost for the Warriors.
Jazz Tevaga is out with a calf injury, leaving Nathaniel Roache as the sole dummy-half cover for Issac Luke. Adam Blair drops to the bench with Tohu Harris reverting to the second-row. Blair is set to be part of the middle-forward rotation after struggling to have an impact on the edge.
Patrick Herbert holds his spot at centre with Solomone Kata mercifully remaining in the Canterbury Cup. Gerard Beale – sound on the wing last week – has been named on the bench, while Blake Asyhford drops out of the side with Peta Hiku moving back to centre.
The Knights will field the same 17 that overwhelmed the Eels.
The History: Played 39 – Warriors won 20, Knights won 18, Draws 1
-The Warriors have won 17 of their last 23 against the Knights, including five of the last six.
-The Warriors are on a six-match winning streak against the Knights at Mount Smart.
-Only one of the last five clashes have been decided by less than 16 points.
-David Fusitu’a has scored 11 tries in six career games against the Knights.
-The Knights have won only four of their last 13 away games.
-The Warriors have won five of their last six at home.
3 Key Match-ups
Blake Green v Mitchell Pearce: The Warriors went 0-3 with Green on the sidelines, sorely missing his game-management, kicking and general cool head in the big moments. They need him to stamp his authority from the outset – particularly with Mitchell Pearce rocketing back to form in the Knights’ victory last week. Pearce was easily the best player on the field, a terrier in defence and wonderfully controlled with ball. A great battle, and a vital one.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Kalyn Ponga: Tuivasa-Sheck has been the Warriors’ best player by a mile this year and one of the NRL’s undisputed standouts in a poorly-performed team. Hiku was great at fullback last week but RTS is the heart and soul of this side. Ponga has shown flashes of his rare brilliance – particularly since his five-eighth experiment was abandoned – but he hasn’t quite been at last year’s levels that saw him finish Dally M runner-up to Roger.
Agnatius Paasi v David Klemmer: Paasi had his best game of 2019 against the vaunted Storm pack, but the Warriors need more of the same and a bit extra. The pack lacks a genuine enforcer; ‘Iggy’ seems the best suited to the role. And they’ll need someone to stand up to big David Klemmer, a firebrand capable of tearing opposition engine-rooms apart if they don’t turn up with the right attitude.
— Radio Sport (@radiosportnz) April 30, 2019
Last Time They Met: The Warriors grinded out a clinical 20-4 home win in Round 22 last year amid their march to the finals, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck the star of the show.
The Warriors are 10-19 ATS when favoured by 4 or more. The Warriors are 6-10 ATS off conceding 16 points or fewer. The Knights have not won an interstate day games since early 2014. The Knights have covered 5 of 7 road games getting 4 or more points. The Knights have covered 8 of 13 road day games getting 4 or more points. The Warriors are 26-18 over in day games. The over is 19-10 when the Warriors are favoured by 4 or more. The under is 11-5 when the Warriors play at Mt Smart off conceding 16 or fewer. The over is 8-2 in Newcastle interstate day games.
TAB’s Best Bet: Knights +4.5 @ $1.90
The Verdict: The Warriors’ two best performances have been in honourable losses to Souths and Melbourne. But an inability to put away the teams they should is why they are languishing in the bottom half. A repeat of their bumbling loss to the Cowboys would see some very pointed questions starting to be asked of the playing group, coaching staff and administration. The Knights arrive confident and won’t be an easy beat – we need to the gritty best of the Warriors’ 2018 vintage or they’ll get their pants pulled down. Warriors by 7