The Warriors have kept their unlikely NRL finals hopes alive by winning three matches in a row for the first time since their watershed 5-0 start to 2018.
Now just two points adrift of the top half, Nathan Brown’s ragtag bunch have steamed into $8 to finish in the Top 8 – after blowing out to $91 on the back of their seven-match losing streak.
If the Warriors can get past second-last Brisbane on Sunday – racking up four straight wins on Australian soil for just the fourth time in their history in the process – they will be pitched into a pair of shootouts with fellow playoffs hopefuls Canberra and Gold Coast in the last two rounds.
The Knights ($1.17), Titans ($1.70) and Raiders ($2.23) remain better favoured snare the last two available finals spots, but the Warriors have moved ahead of the Sharks ($9.20). The Tigers ($13.75) and Dragons ($32) are still a mathematical chance.
While the seventh- and eighth-placed clubs shape as cannon fodder in week one of the finals, just getting there would be a monumental achievement for the Warriors after winning only five of their first 18 games. If they can win their remaining three games, the Warriors would equal their second-longest winning streak ever – the club’s six-game tear during the foundation 1995 campaign. The club record stands at eight consecutive wins, achieved by the 2002 minor premiers.
The 2021 Warriors have grappled with a terrible injury toll, on top of a raft of suspensions and the early exit of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Leeson Ah Mau. A constantly-changing line-up and a lack of cohesion has made it virtually impossible to build any form of consistency out of his team until recent weeks.
Brown has called upon 34 players in 21 games this year. That’s the equal-second-most in Warriors history, behind only the 35 used during a diabolical 2004 campaign. They also trotted out 34 players in their tumultuous 2000 season and a disappointing 2016 season.
The Advantage Line team celebrated two great Rugby League institutions this week, James Maloney and the Coogee Bay Hotel.
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Unsurprisingly, there is a very strong correlation throughout Warriors history between the number of players used and the team’s success. The only time in the previous seven seasons that less than 30 players pulled on the jumper was in 2018, when Stephen Kearney used 27 players. It happens to be the only year during that period the Warriors reached the finals.
In fact, every season except two (2005 and 2006) in which the Warriors used 27 players or less, they made the finals. The Warriors have never finished in the Top 8 when using more than 29 players. During the Ivan Cleary era (2006-11), 29 players was the most used in a season – and he had just one losing season in six.
The least number of players the Warriors have used in a season is 23 – in 2007, the second and most recent time the club finished in the top four. The below graph, plotting number of players used and overall regular season win percentage in every year since their 1995 premiership entry, reflects the close tie between the two.
Brown is yet to field the same starting 13 this season.
The Warriors have used a club record 10 different halves combinations in 2021, with a total of eight different players lining up in the No.6 and 7 jerseys. Kodi Nikorima’s pairing with Chanel Harris-Tavita – combining seven times in the first 14 rounds – is the most used so far. The most halves pairings in a Warriors campaign previous was seven, during the 2004 season that garnered a club-worst six wins.
Incidentally, this weekend Sean O’Sullivan has the opportunity to become the first Warriors halfback since Shaun Johnson in 2013 to be on the winning team in four consecutive rounds.
The Warriors are narrow $1.83 favourites to keep the finals flame flickering with a victory over the out-of-contention Broncos, who have run the heavyweight Panthers and Roosters close and thumped the Cowboys over the past month.
With both teams tightening up their previously sieve-like defence recently – the Warriors have leaked 16 points or less during their current winning streak, while the Broncos have conceded a maximum of 28 in their past four – the under shapes as a solid option in the Total Match Points market with the line set at 52.5.
Reece Walsh and the returning Dallin Watene-Zelezniak are on the top line of First Try Scorer betting at $10. Dotting down in nine of his last 11 NRL outings, teenage wizard Walsh is a market-leading $1.62 in the Anytime Try Scorer stakes.