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Written off a fortnight ago, the short-handed Warriors have kept their finals flame flickering with gutsy 18-16 wins over Wests Tigers and Cronulla.

Neither victory was pretty – but overturning 10-point halftime deficits in both represents a distinct shift for a team that had turned bottling late leads into an art form in 2021.

Still four points adrift of eighth with four rounds left, they have to keep winning. But the Warriors boast by far the easiest draw of the teams in the hunt for the last two finals spots: clashes with bottom-two duds Canterbury and Brisbane in the next two rounds, before crunch games against Canberra and Gold Coast.

A fortnight ago the Warriors had blown out to $91 to make the finals and $251 for the premiership. Their mini-surge has had a dramatic impact on both markets, however; the Warriors have come in to $14.50 for a Top 8 Finish and $67 in title betting.

Nevertheless, Newcastle ($1.56), Gold Coast ($1.70), Canberra ($2.19) and Cronulla ($2.66) are all rated far better chances to squeeze into the playoffs, given the ragtag, tightrope-walking Warriors can’t afford any slip-ups.

Though the initial sheen has worn off for some observers, rookie fullback sensation Reece Walsh has maintained a high level of influence on the Warriors’ fortunes and shapes as the key to their tenuous Top 8 hopes.

Opposition teams are turning the screws on the 19-year-old on both sides of the ball, yet he invariably produces multiple game-turning plays each week. A somewhat overlooked aspect of his kitbag is an outstanding ability to find the try-line.

Walsh has scored eight tries in 12 NRL appearances, failing to score just twice in his last 10 outings courtesy of his rare mix of speed, footwork, instinct, support play and pure desire. He has drawn level with Tigers mid-season recruit Ken Maumalo as the Warriors’ top 2021 tryscorer and is odds-on to snare the mantle for himself before the season is out.

Injured forward Ben Murdoch-Masila and centre-cum-backrower Euan Aitken (six each) are the only other Warriors with more than four tries to their name this year.

Walsh is on track to become just the third rookie to top the Warriors’ tryscoring charts, after Konrad Hurrell in 2012 (equal with Manu Vatuvei and Shaun Johnson) and Solomone Kata in 2015. The blockbusting centres both scored 12 tries in their maiden campaigns, Hurrell in 17 games and Kata in 24. Already equal-fifth on the list of most tries in a season by a Warriors rookie (Motu Tony scored 10 tries in 2001 and Odell Manuel crossed nine times in 1999), Walsh remains an outside chance to match or better the current record.

The frontline Dally M Rookie of the Year contender equalled another club record last weekend. Taking over the goalkicking – and landing 14-from-17 at an impressive 82.35 percent – Walsh has now tallied 60 points, drawing level with Kevin Locke’s 2009 rookie-season haul.

South Sydney’s Les Brennan (29 in 1954), Balmain’s Bobby Lulham (28 in 1947) and St George’s Ron Roberts (25 in 1949) are the most prolific debut-season tryscorers in premiership history.

Meanwhile, the NRL’s race to be the 2021 regular season’s top tryscorer remains alive. Rabbitohs flyer Alex Johnston, last year’s try champ, took a seemingly unassailable lead with a staggering 24 tries in 17 games before breaking down with injury. He is yet to return but is still the $1.57 favourite.

Melbourne speed machine Josh Addo-Carr ($2.75) – who became the first player in 61 years to score six tries in a game earlier this season – has crossed 21 times in 18 appearances and shapes as a value bet with four rounds to go. Manly’s back-three trio Jason Saab ($15 – 20 tries in 19 games), Tom Trbojevic ($18 – 18 tries in 12 games) and Reuben Garrick ($101 – 17 tries in 20 games) are on the next three lines of 2021 NRL Top Tryscorer betting.

With a finals series still to come for Souths, Johnston is a genuine hope of becoming the first player since Nathan Blacklock in 2001 to score 27 tries in a season, just the sixth player ever to score 28 or more tries in a season, equal Brennan’s club record of 29 tries and even becoming only the third player to reach the mystical mark of 30 tries in a season. Easts icon Dave Brown (38 tries in 1935) and Newtown winger Ray Preston (34 tries in 1954) are miles in front on the all-time season tryscoring register.

The Warriors are warm $1.35 favourites to account for the last-placed Bulldogs – who have lost seven straight – on Sunday afternoon. But they will be without suspended trio Matt Lodge, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Kane Evans. The Bulldogs had front-row in enforcers Dylan Napa and Jack Hetherington rubbed out by the judiciary but have been boosted by the inclusion of Canberra loan players Ryan James and Corey Horsburgh.

The Warriors are giving up an 8.5-point start against a Bulldogs outfit whose 18 losses include 15 by 10 points or more. But tread carefully – the Warriors have won by more than four points just once in 2021, a 19-6 opening-round defeat of the Titans.

The Total Match Points market could be the way to go value-wise, with the line set at 50.5 points. Just one of the Warriors’ last seven games have produced totals of more than 46, while only five of the Bulldogs’ (who are averaging 12.9 points per outing) games all season have gone over 50 points.

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Categories: Team News + Stats, WARRIORS NEWS

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