New Zealand Warriors v St. George Illawarra Dragons: Lineups, preview and prediction

Mt Smart Stadium, Friday 20th April, 6pm AEST

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Overview

This match was meant to be the competitions two undefeated teams coming head to head, with one to walk away with a loss for the first time this year, however, that all turned belly-up last week when the Warriors fell to the Broncos. Despite that, there remains only one loss between the two sides all year, the Dragons proving nearly perfect with a 6 from 6 start. Meanwhile, the Warriors will look to bounce back from what was a disappointing loss last week. 

The loss last week was really the first time the Warriors have looked anything like the team everyone expected them to in the off-season, flat and out-enthused by Brisbane. Stephen Kearney’s men will look to arrest any speculation that the Warriors are about to unravel into the lacklustre team we’ve seen in years past. It’s an interesting game for the Warriors, they’ve shown true desire and passion in the opening weeks of this season, but how will they respond after their first loss?

For the Dragons, this game is about continuing their momentum. They’ve been brilliant in the opening weeks but with a reputation for falling away during a season it’s important they continue to impress. Individually, it’s difficult to fault any of the Dragons players, but with Cameron McInnes and Ben Hunt in the mix for Origin selections, it’ll be no surprise to see them continue to light up the area as they have so far this year, and of course, Englishmen Gareth Widdop and James Graham have been excellent. 

Recent meetings

2017 – Round 11 – St. George Illawarra Dragons 30 def. New Zealand Warriors 14 at FMG Stadium Waikato

2017 – Round 4 – St. George Illawarra Dragons 26 def. New Zealand Warriors 12 at UOW Jubilee Oval

2016 – Round 9 – New Zealand Warriors 20 def. St. George Illawarra Dragons 10 at Mt Smart Stadium

2015 – Round 22 – St. George Illawarra Dragons 36 def. New Zealand Warriors 0 at Westpac Stadium

2014 – Round 7 – St. George Illawarra Dragons 20 def. New Zealand Warriors 10 at WIN Jubilee Oval

In terms of meetings, these are two teams that don’t seem to come up against each other very often, their last five meetings dating back to 2014. However, when they have met its seen the Dragons victorious on four out of the last five occasions. The one time the sides played at Mt Smart Stadium though, it was the Warriors that got up, back in 2016. History may not be the best indicator for this match though as the 2018 teams of these clubs are far superior than the teams of the past matches.

Lineups

New Zealand Warriors St. George Illawarra Dragons
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck Matthew Dufty
2 David Fusitu’a Nene Macdonald
3 Peta Hiku Euan Aitken
4 Solomone Kata Timoteo Lafai
5 Ken Maumalo Jason Nightingale
6 Blake Green Gareth Widdop
7 Shaun Johnson Ben Hunt
8 Bunty Afoa James Graham
9 Issac Luke Cameron McInnes
10 Agnatius Paasi Paul Vaughn
11 Simon Mannering Tyson Frizell
12 Tohu Harris Tariq Sims
13 Adam Blair Jack De Belin
Interchange
14 Jazz Tevaga Jeremy Latimore
15 Sam Lisone Kurt Mann
16 Albert Vete Leeson Ah Mau
17 Anthony Gelling Hame Sele
Reserves
18 Tevita Satae Jacob Host
19 Mason Lino Zac Lomax
20 Isaiah Papali’i Mitchell Allgood
21 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad Blake Lawrie

The facts that matter

St George Illawarra Dragons

For the Dragons, the fact that matters most is that they’re undefeated in 2018, no club they’ve come up against has been able to beat them. As well as this though, Gareth Widdop tops the try-assists chart as his combination with new halfback Ben Hunt has hit the ground running. As a team though, the Dragons on average score more tries than the Warriors as well as conjuring up more line-breaks.

What most defines their season the most is that they hold a six-match winning streak to start 2018, no club they’ve come up against has found a way to beat them. But why have they been so impressive? It’s been the new-look halves of Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt that’s been the driving force behind the Dragons resurgence, Hunt has been the key to unlock Widdop’s running game, and Widdop has made the most of his new-found freedom, with 9 try-assists to start the year. Speedy fullback Matthew Dufty has excelled as well, topping the competitions line-break count with seven, as well as six tries. New South Wales hopeful, Euan Aitken has been in the kind of form that has him blitzing Greg Inglis, with five tries already in 2018.

In terms of club statistics, the Dragons top plenty of categories. They’re currently the top club in terms of points scored, tries scored, goals kicked and try assists. Statistically the team is brilliant, but what the statistics don’t show is the hard-working attitude that’s been implemented into the club from players like James Graham, this is the major difference between the Dragons of old, and the Dragons of 2018, and it’s not a trait the Warriors can train against.

New Zealand Warriors

They might not statistically come up with as many tries or line-breaks as the Dragons but the major weapon in the Warriors arsenal is their offloads, averaging 16 per match. The second phase play on the back of a forward pack punching above its weight as allowed the halves combination of Blake Green and Shaun Johnson to shine. Johnson especially is looking increasingly like the player that won the prestigious Golden Boot award a few years ago – a scary prospect for opposition teams.

While the Dragons are having no troubles piling on the points with blistering halves and quick outside backs, for the Warriors it’s been their offloading ability giving life to their attack, topping the competition with 98. It’s this second-phase play that has allowed the Warriors to return to playing “Warriors football.” No players epitomize this more than Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Shaun Johnson. Both of which looked far below their best in recent seasons, and displayed form that had many spectators wondering if they would return to the form that the two of them are capable of, but with a reinstated toughness, some attacking flair and the leadership of Blake Green both Tuivasa-Sheck and Johnson are back fit and firing, with this new style allowing Tuivasa-Sheck to top the clubs count for offloads, try-assists and tackle breaks and Johnson to pile on the points, and the Warriors couldn’t be loving it more.

Prediction

So who wins the battle of the feel-good stories? Well, assuming the Warriors bounce back into form this week we could be in for a treat. The two big-name halves signings in Blake Green and Ben Hunt will be competing with each other with whom can get their running half the best ball, then it’s over to Johnson and Widdop. The attacking football on show could be brilliant, but ultimately it’s too hard to go past the Dragons. St. George by 8.

Will the Dragons keep their winning run alive, or could the Warriors bounce back with a win? Let us know in the comments and poll below.

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