It’s already getting to that time of the season for Warriors fans: must-win territory.
They’ve now lost four of their last five games, conceding a torrent of points in the process, to slip to a 5-8 record. Only the mediocrity of the competition is keeping the perennial underachievers in touch with the Top 8.
The Warriors need to make this Saturday’s NRL Round 15 clash with 14th-placed Newcastle Knights a launching pad for a strong run home. But the 11th-placed visitors come is as $2.28 underdogs, with the Knights welcoming back marquee trio Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce and David Klemmer.
The Warriors have been boosted by a few key inclusions, too, most notably offensive saviour Reece Walsh.
Round 15 of the NRL is just around the corner and I'm expecting a number big favourites to put up big scores against their less fancied opponents.
— The Shark (@TABShark) June 16, 2021
Last year, their 61 tries were spread out evenly between the left and right: the Warriors scored 25 on each side of the paddock (41 percent), with just 11 scored in the middle (18 percent). Only four teams scored a lower proportion of their tries centre-field.
With the team initially playing a highly conservative style lacking width under new coach Nathan Brown, nine of the Warriors’ 19 tries across the first six rounds were scored through the middle channel. It was comfortably the highest proportion of four-pointers scored in the middle by any team (47 percent) and behind only the heavyweight Storm for most tries scored in the middle (10 tries) to that point of the season.
But in seven games since, the Warriors’ inclination to chance their arm out wide has gone through the roof – along with their overall tryscoring strike-rate. The Warriors posted 30 ‘meat pies’ between Round 7 to 14 (4.3 per game, compared to 3.2 on average from Round 1 to 6).
The injection of brilliant rookie Walsh has been the catalyst for the team’s attacking upswing, and especially their potency on the edges. Where Chanel Harris-Tavita, Kodi Nikorima and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have struggled – namely, being able to throw a cut-out pass that provides their three-quarters with any space whatsoever – the 18-year-old has already proven himself as one of the NRL’s most lethal.
— NRL (@NRL) May 21, 2021
Walsh already boasts eight try-assists in just six appearances. Five of those came from breath-taking long balls, plus another from a first-tackle grubber, for Warriors wingers to score. The fullback was also instrumental in a try scored on the flank by Euan Aitken against North Queensland, while his footwork, instincts and searing pace saw him score out wide himself in consecutive games against the Eels, Tigers and Cowboys.
His ability to be just as devastating on both sides of the ruck is another string to his bow and a vital part of the Warriors’ rejuvenated attacking armoury.
— NRL (@NRL) May 21, 2021
With Walsh out suspended, the Warriors reverted to an unadventurous attacking blueprint against the Storm on Sunday – and consequently did not even remotely come close to scoring for the first hour of the match. Finally breaking the shackles, stringing some passes together and looker wider, departing winger Ken Maumalo scored a hat-trick in the last 20 minutes.
The shift in the Warriors’ try location chart has been striking. They have now scored 21 of their 49 tries on the left (43 percent), 12 on the right (24 percent), and 16 in the middle (33 percent). Less than a quarter of their tries have come through the middle channel since Walsh’s Round 7 debut. Warriors wingers have scored 10 tries in the past seven games, compared to just two in the first six rounds.
— NRL (@NRL) May 28, 2021
Newcastle is the third-worst defensive team in the NRL this season, giving up 36-plus points in five of their last 10 games – and plenty of opportunities on the edges for their opponents. Two-game winger Dominic Young will be an obvious target up against Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who is a $1.80 Anytime Try Scorer chance this Saturday.
Marcelo Montoya, whose three tries in his last three games have all come from Walsh bullets, is $1.83 to dot down (though he could be a late exclusion for Adam Pompey), while the returning Walsh is a juicy $2.25 to score for the fifth straight match.
With Maumalo now at the Tigers, Ben Murdoch-Masila is the top 2021 tryscorer among current Warriors with six in 12 games, including four in his last six. The bustling veteran, though, is way out at $8.50 to grab a try at the Knights’ expense.
Hard-running centres Euan Aitken ($3.30) and Rocco Berry ($3.25) provide a bit of value in the Anytime Try Scorer stakes.
TAB’s The Shark is backing the 5-9 Knights to get up in Saturday’s crunch game, boasting a handy record (9 of their last 13) as a home favourite.