NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V CRONULLA SHARKS – 8.00PM (NZT)/6.00PM (AEST), FRIDAY, JULY 19 @ WESTPAC STADIUM, WELLINGTON
The Storylines: The Warriors came away with one competition point from their high-stakes clash with the Broncos last weekend – simultaneously a lost opportunity and a fortunate result. After an impressive, free-flowing first half performance, they watched an 10-point lead evaporate but hung in the contest under duress to force it into extra-time, where neither side could find a decisive score in a frantic 10 minutes.
Individually, there were highly encouraging displays from Peta Hiku, Adam Blair and Kodi Nikorima, as well as perennial blue-chip performers Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Ken Maumalo.
The point earned could prove invaluable, but it hasn’t changed the equation for this weekend: sitting in 12th, three points outside the Top 8, the Warriors cannot lose to the out-of-sorts Cronulla Sharks.
Fringe title contenders not all that long ago, the Sharks have now lost four straight. They inexplicably went down to weak Canterbury and Brisbane outfits, then copped a 40-16 beatdown from Melbourne last Saturday to slip out of the Top 8.
The injury-hampered, would-be heavyweights are only one point ahead of the Warriors on the ladder and equally desperate.
The Warriors yet again confront a dreadful overall record at alternate New Zealand venues with this trip to Wellington, which has not exactly been a happy hunting ground for the surrogate home side.
The @NZWarriors have arrived in Wellington! They were greeted by a powhiri by Brandon Intermediate, Porirua.
— Wellington Airport (@WLGAirport) July 18, 2019
Then there’s the looming clash with Shaun Johnson – though that may be scuppered by injury.
The Warriors have to somehow gain some parity in the middle up against the likes Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods and Paul Gallen – which they found a battle for much of their showdown with the big Broncos pack – if they are to stop Johnson, Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan dictating terms.
Their season depends on it.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) July 17, 2019
Ins and Outs: The Warriors named an unchanged 17 for the first time this season, with Tohu Harris and Karl Lawton still on the injured list. But Ken Maumalo (concussion) has been ruled out with Blake Ayshford the reported replacement being considered.
The Sharks have named ex-Origin stars Paul Gallen and Matt Moylan to return from injury, though the pair – as well as five-eighth Shaun Johnson – are in some doubt.
Meanwhile, veterans Josh Dugan and Josh Morris are both out injured, which sees Warriors recruitment target Kurt Capewell slot in at centre. Aaron Gray’s late withdrawal leaves a wing spot open. Scott Sorenson comes into the side at Jayson Bukuya’s expense.
— Stuff.co.nz Sport (@NZStuffSport) July 18, 2019
Late Mail: @Cronulla_Sharks stars Shaun Johnson, Paul Gallen and Matt Moylan all completed captain's run and are expected to front up for Johnson's first clash with @NZWarriors @NRLcom https://t.co/TRJCpeLozs pic.twitter.com/ts0HLLMwl0
— Dan Walsh (@dan_walsh64) July 18, 2019
The History: Played 42 – Broncos won 24, Warriors won 18
-The Sharks have won nine of their last 11 against the Warriors, including the last four straight.
-Five of the clubs’ last six encounters were decided by four points or less.
-The Warriors have failed to score more than 20 points in their last 11 meetings with Cronulla.
-The Sharks have scored 18-plus points in 10 of their last 12 against the Warriors.
-The Warriors boast just two wins and a draw from nine games in Wellington.
-The Warriors have won just seven and drawn two of 30 games in New Zealand away from Mt Smart.
-The Sharks are on a three-game away losing streak.
-The Warriors are unbeaten in their last five away from Auckland.
3 Key Match-ups
Kodi Nikorima v Shaun Johnson: The former Warriors linchpin against his belated replacement, though Johnson is no certainty to line up against his old club for the first time. It’s been a patchy, injury-hampered initial season at the Sharks for Johnson, peppered with familiar flashes of genius. But he’ll be aware as anyone he has fallen short of expectations in 2019. Nikorima turned a corner in Brisbane after a string of so-so performances, terrorising the Broncos with his running game (over 200 metres) and taking some of the kicking pressure off Blake Green. The Warriors need more of the same from their livewire No.6.
Kodi Nikorima has admitted he may have been distracted by ulterior motives during crunch time on Saturday night.https://t.co/LAUUGA0Rej
— nzherald (@nzherald) July 16, 2019
Issac Luke v Jayden Brailey: Despite some good moments and high involvement, ‘Bully’ finished on the debit side of the ledger last week courtesy of two howlers that gifted tries to the Broncos. For the Warriors’ sake – and that of his 2020 contract prospects – he needs to produce the form that saw him finish equal-seventh in last year’s Dally M Medal count. Brailey, reportedly on the move to Newcastle next year, possesses less of Luke’s game-breaking brilliance but is a much more steady, consistent No.9. The youngster suits the Sharks’ squad, with plenty of other key players capable of providing the spark.
Jazz Tevaga v Paul Gallen: With the ink still drying on a new two-year deal, Tevaga will be eager to cut out the errors and penalties that have crept into his game in recent weeks but replicate the enthusiasm and insane work-rate (182 metres and 72 tackles against the Broncos) that make him so valuable. The indefatigable Gallen is in doubt – and the Warriors would love to see him pull out. As well as playing the referees with Cameron Smith-like dexterity, 37-year-old provides a win-at-all-costs mentality that the Warriors find hard to match.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) July 17, 2019
Last Time They Met: The Sharks snatched a controversial 18-15 victory at Mt Smart last season after Edrick Lee scored a late try from a forward pass.
The Warriors have covered seven straight away from Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered 11 of 14 as an underdog away from Mt Smart. The Warriors have won and covered 2 of 3 at Westpac Stadium. The Warriors have covered 5 of 6 and 12 of 18 as an underdog. The Warriors are 14-4 ATS after conceding 18-plus. Favourites on four-game losing streaks cover at just 46% the last five seasons. Road favourites on four-game losing streaks cover at just 42% the last five seasons. Cronulla are 31-42 ATS when favoured. Cronulla are 9-4 ATS after conceding 30. Cronulla are 13-8 ATS off a double digit loss.
TAB’s Best Bet: Warriors +1.5 @ $1.90
The Verdict: On paper and on form, the Warriors should take this game. Though there’s still a weak link or two for the Warriors, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s presence give their backline the edge over their makeshift Sharks counterparts. But the match-up with Fifita, Woods and Gallen is a concern, as is Johnson’s penchant for game-changing brilliance, Big Ken’s absence and the dual Cronulla/New Zealand venues bogies – not to mention the Warriors’ general lack of reliability in 2019. They showed signs of adopting a far more effective style, which will serve them well against a patched-up Sharks side. Get sucked into the grind, however, and the Warriors could be in trouble. Warriors by 8