NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V CANBERRA RAIDERS – 8.00PM (NZT)/6.00PM (AEST), FRIDAY, AUGUST 2 @ MT SMART STADIUM
The Storylines: Well, it’s been one hell of a week to be a Warriors fan.
A heartbreaking finish to their 24-22 loss to Parramatta came on the back of a string of horrendous refereeing calls, which ultimately saw four officials dropped as the game briefly went into meltdown mode over the controversial thriller.
Salt was then rubbed liberally into the wound with Issac Luke incredibly rebuffed in his bid to have a (barely) dangerous throw charge downgraded. He’s now out for three weeks.
But all is not lost for the Warriors. They now sit 12th (instead of equal-eighth, where they would have been with a win over the Eels) but are only two points outside the Top 8 and could find themselves there at the of Round 20.
The biggest positive is their formline. Despite missing top-liners Tohu Harris, David Fusitu’a and Patrick Herbert in recent weeks, the BankWest barnburner was their first regulation-time loss in six outings. It hasn’t been pretty, on the whole, but the Warriors have discovered some genuine grit.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s form has been out of this world, while the likes of Peta Hiku, Ken Maumalo, Agnatius Paasi and Adam Blair have been superb weekly contributors.
But with five wins needed from the last six rounds, toppling in-form Canberra on Friday is an absolute must. And it won’t be easy – the Raiders have belatedly convinced most pundits they are a legitimate premiership contender with six wins in their last seven games to put one hand on a top-four finish.
The Green Machine were superb in ending Penrith’s winning streak last weekend, though a more complete 80-minute performance will be high on coach Ricky Stuart’s agenda after leaving the door ajar for the Panthers on a couple of occasions.
Raiders Coach Ricky Stuart speaks about Josh Hodgson ahead of his 100th game for the club, as well as Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad's return to New Zealand and the importance of Friday's game. #WeAreRaidershttps://t.co/vA1GL0Sguq
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) August 1, 2019
The Warriors are also desperate to end a dreadful run at home. After beating cellar-dwelling Canterbury and Gold Coast early in the season, they have lost five straight at Mt Smart.
This is the Warriors’ first game at their usual fortress – and a fired-up home crowd, galvanised by the perceived injustices their club has endured in recent times, should be in attendance to spur them to a drought-breaking victory.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) July 29, 2019
Ins and Outs: Kodi Nikorima is back at five-eighth after missing the Eels road trip, which sees the highly-impressive Chanel Harris-Tavita move back to the bench and Adam Keighran drop out of the 17.
Issac Luke’s suspension could see Keighran come back into the frame, but it’s expected Karl Lawton will return from injury to fill the dummy-half breach. David Fusitu’a and Patrick Herbert have been held back for at least another week, while Tohu Harris may be gone for the season.
Canberra has named an unchanged line-up, with Nick Cotric still on the suspended list and Joey Leilua remaining in the casualty ward.
The History: Played 40 – Raiders won 21, Warriors won 19
-The Warriors have won seven of their last 11 against Canberra.
-The Warriors have won four of their last five against the Raiders in Auckland.
-The Raiders have won only one of their last eight games outside NSW and ACT.
-The Warriors are on a five-match losing streak at Mt Smart.
-In four of the clubs’ last eight clashes (including both in 2018), both teams failed to score more than 20 points.
-Jarrod Croker has scored 17 tries in 17 matches against the Warriors – a record tally for any player against the club.
3 Key Match-ups
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad: Classic master versus apprentice narrative. Tuivasa-Sheck has arguably been the NRL’s standout player again in 2019, but Warriors cast-off Nicoll-Klokstad hasn’t been too far behind after grasping his opportunity in Canberra spectacularly. Both have massive work-rates, offer plenty on attack and inspire their teammates. But RTS has the edge in the individual brilliance department – and the Warriors need to him carry them yet again.
"His professionalism and how he conducts himself, he's a true gentleman of rugby league. If I could be one percent of what he is I'd be happy with that." – CNK
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) August 1, 2019
Kodi Nikorima v Jack Wighton: Nikorima was running into some decent form before missing last week’s assignment, incurring his ankle injury while scoring a superb solo try late against Cronulla. His unpredictability and spark is vital to the Warriors’ chances. Wighton, meanwhile, has been close to the best No.6 in the NRL this season. His big body and powerful running game make him a handful for any opposition team, but the controversial former fullback has exceeded expectations as a quality ball-playing and kicking pivot. The one player the Warriors must keep on a short leash.
Adam Blair v John Bateman: If there’s one area the Raiders look to have a clear advantage, it’s with their blue-chip British back-rowers Bateman and Elliot Whitehead up against Blair and young Isaiah Papali’i. Blair has upped his game in a big way over the last month, but Bateman is close to being the best second-rower in the NRL. A fierce, industrious competitor who always seems to come up with a big play, his experience as a centre also makes him a dangerous proposition when the Raiders swing the ball wide. A concerning match-up.
Just watched the @RaidersCanberra game from yesterday. @johnbateman1 is just like @AldiUK… the quality for the price is unbelievable, They’re both absolute game changers, they’re both a bit rough and they both seem to get better every week! #KeepDominatingThoseAussiesLad
— Alex Simmons (@alexsimmonstv) July 29, 2019
Last Time They Met: The Raiders were bit-part players on one of the Warriors’ most momentous nights in the final round of 2018. A crowd of 24,595 packed out Mt Smart Stadium as Simon Mannering became the first player to bring up 300 appearances for the club, in a match that double as the beloved back-rower’s home farewell. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck starred (garnering three Dally M points, which ultimately saw him clinch the Medal) in a hard-fought 20-16 win over the also-ran Raiders.
The Warriors have covered 12 of 18 off a loss. The Warriors are 14-4 ATS off conceding 18 or more. Home underdogs off 4 or more straight covers are 11-6 ATS over the last five seasons. The Warriors are 21-31 ATS at Mt Smart. The Warriors have failed to cover their last three as an underdog at Mt Smart. The Warriors are 17-30 ATS off scoring 22 or more. Canberra are 37-21 ATS away from home including covers in 8 of 10. Canberra are 21-9 ATS away from home off a win. Canberra are 16-5 ATS away from home off a double digit win. Canberra have covered 10 of 14 when shorter than $2.00. The over is 19-11 when the Warriors are at Mt Smart off a loss. The over is 37-21 when the Raiders are on the road. The over is 15-6 when the Raiders are on the road off a double digit win.
TAB’s Best Bet: Raiders -3.5 @ $1.90
The Verdict: The Warriors have to use the rough cards they’ve been dealt of late to their advantage. A desperate, galvanised team with their backs to the wall and fire in their belly is a dangerous opponent – and the Warriors need something extra if they are to topple the in-form visitors. But the Raiders are far from infallible. And with everything on the line combined with the Warriors’ recent doggedness, an upset could be on the cards, particularly if a big crowd turns up to lift them. Warriors by 4