Friday night rugby league makes its way over the ditch as the Warriors take on the Knights in Round 22. With just four rounds of the regular season remaining, the Warriors sit in eighth position after an inconsistent month of football. They've fallen to bottom sides yet captured victory against top eight contenders. It's difficult to know what to make of the Warriors and coach Stephen Kearney must surely scratch his head perplexed. Against a Newcastle side out of contention, the Warriors get no better opportunity to launch an early attack on September.
The Knights have avoided the wooden spoon this season in what must be a welcome relief for coach Nathan Brown but the jury is out on whether they can consider Season 2018 a success. The inclusion of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga has injected lethality to their much-maligned attack, however, consistency remains a struggle for their young side. Newcastle have won just four of eleven games at home this season so a trip to Auckland may be just what they need to spark a strong final month of results.
2017 - Round 22 - Knights 26 def. Warriors 10 at McDonald Jones Stadium
2017 - Round 1 - Warriors 26 def. Knights 22 at Mt Smart Stadium
2016 - Round 14 - Warriors 50 def. Knights 14 at McDonald Jones Stadium
2016 - Round 4 - Warriors 40 def. Knights 18 at Mt Smart Stadium
2015 - Round 12 - Warriors 24 def. Knights 20 at Mt Smart Stadium
Remarkably, these two sides are yet to meet in Season 2018. It's been slim pickings for the Knights in recent seasons with losses in four of their past five. Granted, many of those meetings came in what can only be described as a 'rebuilding phase' for the Newcastle club. Mt Smart Stadium has proved an unhappy hunting ground for the Warriors this year. Their win record at home is a disastrous 45% and they’ll be desperate to improve on that come Friday.
|1||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck||Kalyn Ponga|
|2||David Fusitu'a||Ken Sio|
|3||Gerard Beale||Sione Mata'utia|
|4||Solomone Kata||Cory Denniss|
|5||Ken Maumalo||Shaun Kenny-Dowall|
|6||Blake Green||Jack Cogger|
|7||Shaun Johnson||Mitchell Pearce|
|8||James Gavet||Herman Ese'ese|
|9||Isaac Luke||Danny Levi|
|10||Agnatius Paasi||Daniel Saifiti|
|11||Isaiah Papali'i||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|12||Adam Blair||Mitchell Barnett|
|13||Simon Mannering||Aidan Guerra|
|14||Jazz Tevaga||Jamie Buhrer|
|15||Leivaha Pulu||Chris Heighington|
|16||Bunty Afoa||Pasami Saulo|
|17||Peta Hiku||JJ Felise|
|18||Anthony Gelling||Nick Meaney|
|19||Joseph Vuna||Josh King|
|20||Tevita Satae||Brock Lamb|
|21||Karl Lawton||Luke Yates|
The facts that matter
We're getting to the pointy end of Season 2018 and just as sides are looking for consistency, it's the Warriors who have opted for the Jekyll and Hyde style of play. It's difficult to know which Warriors side will turn up on any given weekend. Two weeks ago, they were blown off the park by a lowly Titans side and then last week; they took down heavyweights the Dragons. Losing hard man Tohu Harris has proven to be a huge blow for the Kiwi outfit and has hampered much of the early season success that Shaun Johnson enjoyed down the left side of the field. In the four games since Harris was ruled out with a knee injury, Johnson has managed just one try-assist. That's well down on his season average and points to why the Warriors have struggled so much for consistency over this past month.
The Knights are sweating on the fitness of one of their marquee playmakers this week with Mitchell Pearce racing the clock to be fit. Pearce succumbed to a leg injury late in last weekend's loss to the Tigers and with regular five-eighth Connor Watson out of action, losing Pearce would be close to catastrophic. Since returning from a torn pec in Round 18, The Knights have tasted victory twice and suffered only narrow defeats to the Cowboys and Tigers. It shows just how integral an experienced head like Pearce becomes - especially with the Knights boasting one of the youngest sides in the competition.
The Warriors were very good last week, knocking off the Dragons in Wollongong. The big query is whether they can back that up with an all-important match at home. Win this, and the Warriors are assured a place in the 2018 finals series and could even push for a home semi. The possible loss of Mitchell Pearce is huge for the Novacastrians and if he isn't able to take the field, the Warriors may just put a cricket score on the luckless Knights. Warriors by 22 points.
Can the Warriors continue their recent form and cement a spot in the top eight or will the Knights spoil the party in Auckland? Let us know in the poll below.