Two of the surprise packets of the 2018 season, both the Warriors and Tigers have suffered a slight downturn in recent weeks and will meet as two desperate combatants keen to bank two valuable competition points and return to the winner’s circle.
The Warriors have dropped two of their last three games, losing to Melbourne last week in a humiliating 50-10 capitulation while the Tigers have suffered back-to-back losses to the Newcastle Knights and Parramatta Eels.
With Isaac Luke joining a growing injury list which had included the effervescent Shaun Johnson and the reliable Tohu Harris, the Warriors are clinging on to their status as a top four unit by the skin of their teeth.
Interestingly, Isaac Luke, who was expected to be out for around four weeks was named at hooker by Stephen Kearney and will be given every opportunity to prove his fitness before kick-off on Saturday evening.
2017 – Wests Tigers 28 def. New Zealand Warriors 16 at Leichhardt Oval2016 – Wests Tigers 36 def. New Zealand Warriors 24 at Mt. Smart Stadium2016 – Wests Tigers 34 def. New Zealand Warriors 26 at Campbelltown Stadium2015 – Wests Tigers 50 def. New Zealand Warriors 16 at Campbelltown Stadium2015 – New Zealand Warriors 32 def. Wests Tigers 22 at Mt. Smart Stadium
The Tigers have certainly got the wood over the Warriors in recent years, winning their last four clashes with the Kiwi-based team. It has been three years since the Warriors last tasted victory against the Tigers. That win came courtesy of a 32-22 triumph of the joint-venture club at Mt. Smart Stadium and saw a brace to former Kiwi try-machine Manu Vatuvei.
|New Zealand Warriors||Wests Tigers|
|1||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck||Corey Thompson|
|2||David Fusitu'a||David Nofoaluma|
|3||Peta Hiku||Esan Marsters|
|4||Solomone Kata||Kevin Naiqama|
|5||Ken Maumalo||Mahe Fonua|
|6||Blake Green||Benji Marshall|
|7||Shaun Johnson||Luke Brooks|
|8||Bunty Afoa||Matt Eisenhuth|
|9||Isaac Luke||Pita Godinet|
|10||Agnatius Paasi||Ben Matulino|
|11||Simon Mannering||Chris Lawrence|
|12||Tohu Harris||Robbie Rochow|
|13||Adam Blair||Elijah Taylor|
|14||Karl Lawton||Alex Twal|
|15||Sam Lisone||Josh Aloiai|
|16||Isaiah Papali'i||Michael Chee Kam|
|17||James Gavet||Sauaso Sue|
|18||Anthony Gelling||Tim Grant|
|20/19||Mason Lino||Matt McIlwrick|
|21/20||Albert Vete||Malakai Watene-Zelezniak|
|22/21||Sam Cook||Tyson Gamble|
The facts that matter
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors have put together a much better 2018 campaign than many people expected over the first weeks of the season, but all that appears a little shaky given a couple of losses, one a humbling at the hands of the Melbourne Storm, over the last few weeks.
A win at home against the Tigers, another side who have exceeded expectations but stumbled over the last few weeks would be an invaluable win for the Warriors and help the team regain some confidence in the wake of last week’s big loss.
The loss of Isaac Luke could prove a massive headache for Stephen Kearney and his team as they try and restructure their attack without a key component. Luke has been close to his best form over the last few weeks and had provided much of the creativity and spark while Shaun Johnson had been sidelined.
The Warriors welcome back Shaun Johnson (groin) at halfback as well as Tohu Harris (concussion) and Solomone Kata (ankle). With that, Isaiah Papali’I drops back to the bench while Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling move back to the extended reserves.
Karl Lawton has been named on the bench and looks the obvious replacement for Isaac Luke if and when he can’t confirm his fitness. Jazz Tevaga is also unavailable following a shoulder injury.
Albert Vete and Joseph Vuna also drop out with James Gavet making a return as well.
The Tigers have stumbled into a bit of a reality check over the last fortnight with consecutive losses to the Newcastle Knights and Parramatta Eels denting confidence in a side which had surprised many over the first six weeks of the season.
The unavailability of key forwards Russell Packer and Elijah Taylor has certainly had a big impact on the Tigers who have looked a little softer in defence while a slight dip in form for veteran half Benji Marshall has not helped.
Even in their two last-start losses, halfback Luke Brooks has kept up his own strong run of form and remains firmly in contention for a New South Wales State of Origin berth if the rumours are to be believed. Brooks has been the conductor of a stop-start Tigers attack and seems to have matured well into the role alongside Marshall in the absence of high-profile recruit Josh Reynolds.
Veteran Chris Lawrence has continued his strong run of form, nabbing two tries and running some superb lines on the fringes in attack while former New South Wales Origin forward Tim Grant earned his first start of the season last week against the Eels.
In good news, Elijah Taylor (concussion) returns to the starting side this week. Taylor has been named in his preferred position of lock forward, pushing Matt Eisenhuth to prop and Sauaso Sue to the bench. Alex Twal has also been included on the bench as an option for coach Ivan Cleary. To accommodate Twal, Grant drops away to the extended reserves while Jacob Liddle misses out completely.
Pita Godinet will likely play the full 80-minutes at dummy-half as the only recognised hooker in the squad.
Both sides have been very hard to predict this season, winning early when most expected them to struggle and now hitting a rough patch when things looked a little more settled. The return of Shaun Johnson is huge for the Warriors but is offset in large part by concerns over his complete fitness and the loss of Isaac Luke at dummy-half.
For the Tigers, they looked disjointed and without a genuine solution against Parramatta last week and that’s hard to take when thinking about backing them here this week.
For mine, I’ll take the home side with the 1-12 margin a best bet.
Will it be the Tigers or the Warriors who bounce back and notch a much-needed win at Mt. Smart Stadium this weekend? Let us know in the comments and poll below.