NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS – 7.30PM (NZT)/5.30PM (AEST) @ SUNCORP STADIUM, BRISBANE
The Storylines: It’s Magic Round in the NRL, but the Warriors have been more school talent show ventriloquist than Dynamo in 2019. They are languishing in equal-last with a 2-6 record following another inexplicable home loss on Sunday.
The 36-18 defeat to Newcastle was the Warriors’ fourth in a row and arguably their most baffling yet. Coming off a 10-day turnaround from their heroic Anzac Day performance in Melbourne, and getting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Blake Green back, they showed a fraction of the desperation and commitment their position on the ladder demanded.
The Warriors were pancake-flat from the outset, dominated in the middle of the field by the more aggressive Knights forwards, and lacking imagination and penetration in attack. They were trounced tactically as well as being outmuscled. The performances of Ken Maumalo, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Patrick Herbert and Agnatius Paasi were tiny glimmers on sunshine on a bleak afternoon at Mount Smart.
Eighth-placed St George Illawarra are coming off back-to-back losses. But after a stoic 20-10 loss to the red-hot Roosters on Anzac Day, they were awful in giving up a 14-0 lead to lose 32-18 to the Eels last Sunday.
Linchpin Corey Norman suffered a facial injury in a further blow for the Dragons; at 4-4, this is a crossroads game for them.
Kodi Nikorima makes his club debut for the Warriors at his former home ground, among a host of changes – including a couple of bombshells.
We said last week was must-win – but the Warriors simply have to get the two points here if they are any chance of turning their campaign around. Finals footy will be a virtual impossibility if they fall to the Saints.
Ins and Outs: Nikorima coming in for Harris-Tavita would have been the big headline, but Stephen Kearney has made some surprise selection calls.
Astonishingly, Issac Luke has been dropped for defensive underperformance. Nathaniel Roache starts at hooker, with Karl Lawton comes onto the bench. Jazz Tevaga and Bunty Afoa also return on the interchange after a one-week absence, while Ligi Sao gets a chance with Chris Satae dropping out and Adam Blair copping a one-game suspension.
David Fusitu’a is back at Gerard Beale’s expense.
The Dragons’ only change is a big one: Norman is out injured, with Jai Field set to make his first NRL start (he came off the bench six times in 2017-18) at five-eighth.
The History: Played 28 – Dragons won 21, Warriors won 7
-The Dragons are 15-2 against the Warriors away from Mount Smart Stadium.
-The Warriors have won their last two against the Dragons.
-The Dragons’ last four wins over the Warriors were by 14 points or more.
-Only one of the teams’ last seven clashes produced more than 38 points.
-The Warriors have lost their last six away from Auckland.
-After losing their previous 10 at Suncorp Stadium, the Saints have won their last two at the ground.
-The Warriors have won two of their last four in Brisbane.
3 Key Match-ups
Kodi Nikorima v Jai Field: Nikorima won’t cure all that ails the Warriors, but he should add much-needed speed and spark to a flagging attack. The dumped Bronco will have a big point to prove in Brisbane, too, and is certain to thrive alongside an organiser like Blake Green. Jai Field is a real livewire who can’t be given too much space, but the lightweight tyro could be a target for the Warriors’ ball-runners.
— Corey Rosser (@CoreyRosser23) May 8, 2019
Nathaniel Roache v Cameron McInnes: Roache starts in the No.9 jumper for the first time since Round 1 – but this shapes as a much tougher assignment against a Dragons side that will throw more at the Warriors’ on both sides of the ruck than Bulldogs did. The jury remains out on whether Roache is a genuine long-term option as starting hooker; this is a great chance to prove himself. McInnes has to be one of the NRL’s most underrated players: he is averaging more than 48 tackles and 61 metres per game, and has 12 tackle-breaks and a couple of try-assists to boot. Advantage Dragons.
Leeson Ah Mau v James Graham: Ah Mau was the Warriors’ big off-season purchase, but he’s been more of a workmanlike contributor than the pack leader the club may have been hoping for. He never has a poor game, but his running metres numbers are down on his last four seasons at the Dragons and has reached triple-figures in just one of his five games as a starting prop. James Saints skipper Graham is the heart-and-soul engine-room competitor the Warriors are lacking – an absolute workhorse that would sooner give up the game than put in some of the weak-willed efforts the Warriors have been guilty of at times in 2019. Let’s hope the challenge of taking on his former teammates inspires Ah Mau to new heights.
"I played all my 20's with Fieldy, you feel very comfortable and you feel like a big family."
With Jai Field joining the squad, Matt Dufty says the team feels stronger with another junior graduate in the side 🐉
— The Dragons (@NRL_Dragons) May 9, 2019
Last Time They Met: The Warriors completed back-to-back wins over the Dragons for the first time ever with a courageous 18-12 win late last season – their first in Wollongong since 1996 when the Steelers were still a thing.
The Warriors have failed to cover any of their last six away from Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered 9 of 14 as an underdog. The Warriors have covered 7 of 8 off a loss of 18-plus. The Dragons have covered just 4 of 13 as a favourite. The Dragons have covered 10 of 16 when favoured by less than a try. The under is 13-7 when the Warriors play away from Mt Smart off a double digit loss. The under is 10-7 when the Warriors are underdogs. The under is 29-20 when the Dragons are favoured. The under is 12-4 when the Dragons are favoured by less than a try. The under is 17-6 when the Dragons are favoured at night. The under is 26-9 when the Dragons are away from their suburban home grounds at night. The under is 7-2 when the Dragons are on the road off conceding 30 or more.
TAB’s Best Bet: Warriors 1-12 @ $3.25
The Verdict: The Warriors have been sluggish and sloppy in recent home losses to the Cowboys and Knights, yet were gutsy and desperate in almost toppling the heavyweight Rabbitohs and Storm in Australia. Hopefully this assignment at a packed house in Brisbane, against a Top 8 side in the Dragons, sees the Warriors reproduce a performance from the latter category. The key, as always, is their forward pack being able to get traction – which won’t be easy against a Saints engine-room laced with rep stars. But Norman’s absence has opened up a big chance for the Warriors and the scene is set for a momentum-turning victory. Warriors by 4