It’s been a week like no other in rugby league – but we’ve still got a competition. How will the stranded Warriors handle their already-daunting showdown with the firepower-laden Canberra Raiders?
Covid and Goliath
If the situation wasn’t so serious, it would almost be comedic. Of course the hapless Warriors would be the team most affected – by a massive margin – by potentially the greatest crisis rugby league has ever faced.
But the club is deservedly being commended throughout the game for their selfless actions to date in the wake of hardline travel restrictions put in place by the New Zealand and Australian governments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not that Kingscliff is the worst place in the world to be holed up for a week – but the uncertainty of when the players and staff will be able to get back home to their families is obviously very challenging.
Player welfare is paramount. But the reality is if the Warriors want to keep getting paid, they need to keep playing. By all means, let a player return to Auckland if they need to – as Patrick Herbert and Peta understandably already have – but while the NRL premiership is still rolling, the Warriors need to stay in Australia in some form and trot out a team each weekend.
The game and the club have given the players plenty; within reason, it’s time to reciprocate.
“Warriors owner Mark Robinson says the club will remain in Australia for as long as it takes to ensure it remains involved in this year’s NRL competition.”
Huge 😯 https://t.co/5cDa2x3bOn
— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) March 17, 2020
And say what you will about Cameron George, the Warriors CEO’s leadership over the past week has been spectacular.
Only the hardest markers would begrudge the Warriors losing every game while they are marooned across the Tasman – which is handy given their relocated game on the Gold Coast on Saturday afternoon is against the heavyweight Canberra Raiders.
The Warriors are the biggest outsiders of NRL Round 2 – and the juicy $3.90 head-to-head odds are as much to do with their insipid 20-0 loss in Newcastle last weekend as it is their coronavirus-related plight.
They were awful against the Knights. Though the conditions were difficult, their attack was as pedestrian as it’s looked in the club’s history. The shutout was only the ninth time the Warriors have been held to zero – and if you could score less than that, they would have. Completely dominated by a bigger, more mobile Knights pack, the Warriors attempted to stem the tide by slowing down the ruck and were caned in the penalty count as a result.
Their subpar engine-room won’t get much respite this weekend with the likes of Josh Papalii, Joseph Tapine, Corey Horsburgh and Emre Guler charging into them.
The Raiders cruised to a 24-6 win over the Titans last Friday after a one-sided first half. The 2019 grand finalists barely had to get out of second gear and punters will feel confident in backing them for another 13+ win at $1.83 at an empty Cbus Super Stadium.
Backs to the wall
Rugby league is littered with tales of under-siege teams pulling off unlikely wins or gallantry in defeat in the face of adversity. Only last week, scandal-ridden Canterbury were super-gutsy in an 8-2 loss to hotshots Parramatta – covering the line for those who were willing to put faith in the galvanising effect.
Following the 2016 energy drinks and sleeping pills fiasco – which saw five players stood down – the Warriors trounced bogey team St George Illawarra 26-10. An injury-torn Warriors line-up was valiant (and desperately unlucky) in last season’s one-point Anzac Day defeat when most predicted the Storm would put 50 on them.
If the Warriors can maintain a similarly steely frame of mind this week, they could be sharp bet against the 12.5-point start at $1.90.
Outside-back Hiku and Herbert returning home – as well as the devastating ACL injury suffered by likely replacement Taane Milne – has provided an opportunity for fringe players Adam Pompey and Adam Keighran.
Both made a handful of NRL appearances in their initial first-grade campaigns, but neither should be anywhere near a full-strength Warriors three-quarter line.
Pompey, the club’s NSW Cup Player of the Year in 2019, is competent but unthreatening. His wing battle with Kangaroos Test incumbent Nick Cotric shapes as a mismatch.
Better known as a half or hooker since arriving in Auckland, Keighran was named at centre in the 2018 NSW Cup Team of the Year while playing for Penrith. But his defensive frailties and lack of pace are a concern opposite the Raiders’ Curtis Scott, who looked dangerous on club debut last week.
Better by half
From aimless attack and a lack of inventiveness to an atrocious kicking game (one 40/20 aside), Warriors halves duo Chanel Harris-Tavita and Blake Green had an afternoon to forget in Newcastle. Both tried their guts out but execution was woeful.
Meanwhile, Jack Wighton and George Williams were devastating for Canberra. Question marks surrounded the new pairing’s ability to gel, given both are primarily running halves. But Wighton’s kicking game has improved immeasurably since taking on the No.6 at the start of last year and the Raiders only look more dangerous.
Both players made two line-breaks against the Titans, with Wighton bagging two tries. He’s a mouth-watering $11 to notch a second straight double. Sniping Englishman Williams is $4 in the Anytime Try Scorer market to open his NRL account.
The Warriors’ halves do have form against Canberra, however, with Harris-Tavita ($7) scoring a second-half double off the bench in a heavy home loss late last season and Green ($8.50) dummying through for the match-winner at GIO Stadium in the final round.
— NRL (@NRL) March 13, 2020
Katoa a keeper
The NRL debuts of tyro forwards Eliesa Katoa and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown were the silver lining of the literal and metaphorical storm clouds last Saturday afternoon. The 20-year-old Katoa, in particular, was mighty impressive. He racked up 17 runs for 146 metres (39 post-contact) off the bench and consistently proved a handful for the Knights’ defence, as well as popping a team-high two offloads.
Katoa has been promoted to the starting second-row at the consistently underwhelming Isaiah Papali’i’s expense, with Adam Blair shifting to lock. With the Warriors short of options near the opposition try-line, I’d love to see Katoa running hard off CHT’s shoulder – and I’ll be having a piece of Eliesa in the Anytime Try Scorer stakes at $8.
242 – Eliesa Katoa becomes @NZWarriors heritage player #242.
He becomes the first born #Warrior from the 2000’s decade.
— NZ Warriors Stats (@NZWarriorsStats) March 14, 2020
Green with envy
The Raiders boast a narrow 22-20 advantage in the all-time ledger against the Warriors. But the Warriors have won three of the last four, including bouncing back from a season-worst 46-12 home loss to the Raiders in Round 20 last year with a morale-boosting 24-20 upset in Canberra just five weeks later.
The honours are relatively even away from the teams’ traditional Mt Smart and GIO Stadium bases. The Raiders snared wins in Wellington (2001) and New Plymouth (2016), while the Warriors’ victory at Manuka Oval (2001) was their only success in Canberra during a 17-season stretch, they prevailed in the clubs’ only finals encounter at the SFS (2003) and powered to a historic 54-12 rout at Eden Park (2014).
Meanwhile, 10 of the teams’ last 16 games have produced 44 points or more – and the Over 42.5 points looks a great option on a dry track this Saturday.
— NRL (@NRL) September 7, 2019
Field of Gold
OK, so the Cbus Super Stadium stands won’t be filled with Kiwi expats on Saturday afternoon. But the Warriors have a fond association with the ground, winning eight of their last nine on the Gold Coast.
Conversely, it’s been something of a bogey venue for the Raiders, who have an unflattering 5-8 overall record against the Titans on the road.