As we head into a blockbuster Easter round of football, it is only fitting that Warriors coach Stephen Kearney looks to have performed his very own rugby league resurrection.
The Warriors were a side most had tipped to languish at the bottom of the table in 2018, so Kearney has done a remarkable job to get them firing so early in the season. So good in fact, they find themselves as one of only two sides still unbeaten after three rounds. This is the first time in their 23 year history that the Warriors have opened the season with three consecutive wins and they'll be looking to achieve a historic fourth when they face a resurgent Sydney Roosters on Saturday.
For the Roosters, what began as a shaky start to season 2018, has corrected itself with two comprehensive wins in recent weeks. After a dominant 38-8 shutout of the Knights last Sunday, the critics are temporarily at bay but that doesn't mean the pressure lets up. It may only be Round 4, but we already look to have our first blockbuster of Season 2018.
2017 - Round 9 - Warriors 14 def. Roosters 13 at Mt Smart Stadium
2016 - Round 15 - Warriors 12 def. Roosters 10 at Mt Smart Stadium
2016 - Round 5 - Warriors 32 def. Roosters 28 at Central Coast Stadium
2015 - Round 19 Roosters 24 def. Warriors 0 at Allianz Stadium
2015 - Round 14 - Roosters 25 def. Warriors 21 at Mt Smart Stadium
These two love a close game - in fact, only one of their recent matches has been decided by more than a try. Of their past five, two games have been decided in the final minute while another two were settled during Golden Point. If history repeats, we are in for some late drama come Saturday. It's the Warriors who have the recent ascendency and are a bogey side for the Chooks with wins over the Bondi club in their past three clashes.
|Sydney Roosters||New Zealand Warriors|
|1||James Tedesco||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c)|
|2||Reece Robinson||David Fusitua|
|3||Latrell Mitchell||Peta Hiku|
|4||Joseph Manu||Solomone Kata|
|5||Blake Ferguson||Ken Maumalo|
|6||Luke Keary||Blake Green|
|7||Cooper Cronk||Shaun Johnson|
|8||Sio Siua Taukeiaho||James Gavet|
|9||Jake Friend (c)||Issac Luke|
|10||Dylan Napa||Agnatius Paasi|
|11||Boyd Cordner (c)||Leivaha Pulu|
|12||Ryan Matterson||Tohu Harris|
|13||Isaac Liu||Adam Blair|
|14||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||Jazz Tevaga|
|15||Zane Tetevano||Ligi Sao|
|16||Mitchell Aubusson||Tevita Satae|
|17||Victor Radley||Bunty Afoa|
|18||Nat Butcher||Mason Lino|
|19||Kurt Baptiste||Anthony Gelling|
|20||Mitchell Cornish||Albert Vete|
|21||Lindsay Collins||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
The Facts that Matter
After being rolled by the Tigers in a Round 1 upset, the Roosters have re-found their mojo and it's looking ominous for the rest of the competition. The last two weeks have seen the Roosters outscore their opponents 68-20 - albeit over middle of the table competition in the Bulldogs and Knights. It's no coincidence that the Rooster's return to form has coincided with the return of Luke Keary. Missing much of the pre-season with a broken jaw, Keary has sparked the tricolours via expansive attacking play and some classy tries. His presence looks to have restored balance to the tricolours, taking pressure off Cooper Cronk and bringing James Tedesco into the game.
The big question mark for the Roosters remains their forward pack. Last week against the Knights, enforcers Dylan Napa and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves only ran for 82 and 80 metres, respectively. This week they face an even tougher challenge against a Warriors pack that not only possesses size but also ball playing ability. The Warriors 4,874 run metres this season is second only to South Sydney and so much of that go-forward has come off the back of new recruits Adam Blair and Tohu Harris. Their aggression and ability to offload close to the line has freed the entire Warriors spine to play with space and time.
The man to benefit from this free-flowing Warriors attack has been former Rooster - Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. With a full year back following a knee reconstruction, the Warriors custodian looks to be returning to the form that saw him lift a premiership trophy and win Dally M fullback of the year in 2015. After the opening three rounds, Tuivasa-Sheck is second in the league for run metres (542m), line breaks (4) and line breaks assists (4) and must surely fancy his chances against a re-shuffled Roosters backline. Roosters fans know all too well the danger that their former number one poses - he broke the Roosters' hearts in their 2016 clash, scoring a length of the field try as the Warriors stole a famous Golden Point victory.
Two teams in fantastic recent form and two teams with pressure and expectations already mounting. This game looks to be the match of the round and will be tough to pick based on form alone. The Warriors will be brimming with confidence after an 3-0 start to the season however, they face their toughest test to date against a Roosters side most are tipping to take out the premiership.
If there is one black mark against the Warriors, it's the number of frequent flyer points they have already amassed in 2018. Prior to this week's game, the Warriors have travelled to Perth and Canberra in what has been a tough initiation to Season 2018. Another trip back across the ditch must surely take its toll and gives the Roosters a slight edge in this one. Roosters to win by four.
Who do you think claims bragging rights in this early season blockbuster? Let us know in the poll below.