CANBERRA RAIDERS V NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS – 5PM (NZT)/3PM (AEST) @ GIO STADIUM, CANBERRA
The Storylines: The Warriors finish their regular-season campaign against Canberra for the second year in a row – but both clubs’ situations are in stark contrast to 2018.
This time 12 months ago, the Warriors were assured of a place in the finals and were gearing up to farewell Simon Mannering in his 300th NRL game for the club, with the also-ran Raiders mere bit-part players on a memorable night at Mt Smart.
Fast-forward and the Warriors are staring down the barrel of a bottom-three finish as they head to the Australian capital to take on an under-strength Raiders side, who boast the luxury of already having wrapped up a top-four spot.
The Warriors have lost five of their last six games – a far too familiar late-season capitulation – to dash any optimism around a potential 11th-hour charge to the playoffs. Since briefly raising hopes again with a season-best upset of Manly in Round 21, they have crumbled to heavy losses at the hands of Sydney Roosters (42-6), Cronulla (42-16) and Souths (31-10).
Attacking impetus and defensive resolve have gone out the window. On current form, only Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and maybe Ken Maumalo would demand selection in another NRL line-up, while Chanel Harris-Tavita – a rare glimmer of promise in a wretched year – will finish the season in the casualty ward after breaking his arm last week.
The Green Machine have won nine of their last 12, bouncing back from a disappointing home loss to fellow surprise-packets Manly in Round 23 with a heart-stopping golden point victory at Cronulla last Sunday.
They have much bigger fish to fry – namely, a road trip to take on the Storm or Roosters in week one of the finals – but will be eager to salute the Canberra faithful before the stakes rise over the next month.
The Warriors farewell three four-season servants of varying importance: Issac Luke, Blake Ayshford and Ligi Sao arrived together in 2016 and all
"They're hurting as a group" – Kearney
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) August 31, 2019
Ins and Outs: Peta Hiku’s injury means Blake Ayshford gets an NRL swansong, partnering Adam Pompey – who received a very late call-up last weekend – in one of the most uninspiring centre combinations in Warriors history.
The only other changes to the Warriors’ 17 are on the bench: Sam Lisone has been dropped for Bunty Afoa, while Adam Keighran replaces the injured Chanel Harris-Tavita on the bench.
The Raiders are resting Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Iosia Soliola, John Bateman, Jordan Rapana and Joseph Tapine. Bailey Simonsson will fill in at fullback, with Michael Oldfield and Sebastian Kris coming onto the wings. Hudson Young gets a second-row start, and Emre Guler and JJ Collins join the bench.
The History: Played 41 – Sharks won 22, Warriors won 19
-The Raiders have won five of their last seven against the Warriors.
-The Warriors have won three of their last five in Canberra.
-Seven of the last 12 encounters were decided by 20 points or more.
-Jarrod Croker holds records for the most tries (17) and points (170) by an opposition player against the Warriors.
-Adam Blair boasts a 16-5 career record against the Raiders.
-The Warriors have won just one final-round game since 2011.
-The Warriors have won only 13 of 55 games over the final seven rounds in the past eight seasons.
3 Key Match-ups
Kodi Nikorima v Jack Wighton: One flash of brilliance from Nikorima last week was a timely reminder of what he is capable of – but there just isn’t enough of it at the moment. Certainly not enough to keep Chanel Harris-Tavita out of the halves in 2020. Involvement certainly hasn’t been an issue with Jack Wighton, who has flourished in the unfamiliar No.6 jersey at Canberra this year.
Issac Luke v Josh Hodgson: ‘Bully’, the Warriors’ most-capped hooker, almost certainly lines up for the Warriors for the last time this weekend. He’ll leave it all out on the paddock and will see this as a quasi-audition for prospective 2020 suitors. It promises to be a ding-dong battle with the equally energetic and dynamic Josh Hodgson, one of the top three most influential rakes in the game.
Adam Blair v Elliot Whitehead: Blair broke out of an early-season slump and has been in fair form despite the Warriors’ recent slump, but his performances are still nowhere near that of other forwards on similar coin. The veteran still has two years to run on his bloated contract and could do with the goodwill of finishing this season strongly. Englishman Whitehead is exactly the type of back-rower the Warriors would love to have on their books: a hard-working, versatile game-breaker who fights for every inch on the paddock.
Sup guys. I haven’t retired although I feel like I’m getting too old. 😂😂😂😂 I just haven’t got a club for next yet. But my manager wife and myself are looking for a club. Any takers 😂😂 have one more game for the warriors. And that’s all that matters right now. Love y’all ❤️
— issac luke (@issacluke_14) August 30, 2019
Last Time They Met: The Warriors produced arguably their worst performance of 2019 (and there’s a few candidates) in a 46-12 loss to the Raiders at Mt Smart in Round 20.
Canberra have covered 4 of 6 as a favourite of 10 or more. Canberra have covered 9 of 13 at home off scoring 16 or fewer. Canberra have covered just 2 of 7 home games
New Zealand are 8-17 ATS in the final six rounds of the season over the last five years. New Zealand have covered 9 of 11 away from Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered 8 of 10 off a loss of 20-plus. The under is 14-9 when the Raiders are off conceding 16 or fewer and at home. The over has hit in 12 of 15 Warriors games away from Mt Smart.
TAB’s Best Bet: Raiders -10 @ $1.90
The Verdict: Make no mistake: the Raiders are bona fide NRL premiership contenders. But Ricky Stuart’s astute resting policy does open the door for the Warriors – CNK and Bateman, in particular, have been so integral to their success this season and will be missed. Nevertheless, the Warriors have been so poor of late, the somewhat second-string Raiders still deserve their hot favouritism. There were signs of fight during last week’s defeat to the Rabbitohs, but do the Warriors have enough points in them to trouble the hosts here? Head says no, heart is too weary at the end of a brutal season to sway towards an upset. Raiders by 6