Home sweet home. How I’ve missed you. How I’ve looked forward to this day.
It’s been fantastic to have the great game back on TV for the last month, with the Nines, the trial matches and the first two rounds, but none of it really compares to the tingle as the boys run out onto the hallowed turf, to being surrounded by thousands of people who all feel the same way. Thousands of people who strap themselves in to ride the rollercoaster, who get out of their seats when Manu crashes over in the corner, or when Ben Matulino puts a big hit on #ouaa! Thousands of people who are on your team. Twenty years strong. Thousands of people who make you feel part of their team. Part of the team.
So what can we expect from this game?
If the last three scores between these two sides have any relevance, absolutely anything!
2014 Round 18 (Our Rightful Home*) – Warriors 48, Eels 0
2014 Round 1 (Pirtek Stadium) – Warriors 16, Eels 36
2013 Round 1 (Parramatta Stadium) – Warriors 10, Eels 40
And Parramatta’s first two games this year:
Round 1 – Eels 42, Sea Eagles 12
Round 2 – Eels 12, Bulldogs 32
So if stats get you going, you shouldn’t expect it to be close.
The Warriors were scrappy at the weekend, and although 18-6 looks relatively comfortable on the scoreboard, if you dig a little deeper, the difference was only a 5-minute burst after half-time, inspired by a Paul Vaughan mistake from the kick-off.
Parra, on the other hand, were blown away late by the Doggies, but for most of that match they were right in the mixer. Semi Radradra had to leave the field just before half-time, and the trimmed-down Little Chrissy Sandow was injured too, only playing 54 minutes. Little Chrissy has been named to play this week, but whether he suits up on Saturday is anyone’s guess. He’s just about my favourite love-to-hate player — in the ‘something about him bothers me but secretly I love it when he does well’ love-to-hate kind of way, rather than the ‘he is a grub and I have absolutely no time for him’ love-to-hate way (Greg *cough* Bird *cough* Joshreynolds *cough* Ennis) — so it would be a shame not to see Little Chrissy’s little legs scurrying around Our Rightful Home.
Parra are missing other familiar names — Beau Champion, Semi Radradra and Pauli Pauli are injured — and with Fuifui Moimoi’s departure to Super League, all we’re left with in the way of fun-to-say names is Manu Ma’u.
In contrast, the Warriors have named an unchanged line-up and the mixture of youth and experience in the forward pack will again need to set the platform against a big Eels pack, led by their second-row of Watmough, Ma’u and impressive youngster Tepai Moeroa. It’s a cliché, but if the Warriors can win that battle up front, they’ll go a long way towards winning this game.
This Parramatta side are well on the way to proving that on their day they can challenge the very best the NRL has to offer, but the injuries, plus some Shaun Johnson brilliance around the 60 minute mark, should see the Warriors make a happy return to Our Rightful Home.
*With the Auckland Council trying to move the Warriors from Mt Smart, until further notice, Mt Smart shall be known as Our Rightful Home.
NRL Warrior Prediction: Warriors by 16
What to watch for: The combination between Bodene Thompson and Shaun Johnson. They haven’t quite clicked in the first few rounds, but when they do, look out.
Highlights from the last meeting:
1 Will Hopoate
2 Vai Toutai
3 Ryan Morgan
4 Brad Takairangi
5 Reece Robinson
6 Corey Norman
7 Chris Sandow
8 Darcy Lussick
9 Nathan Peats
10 Tim Mannah (c)
11 Manu Ma’u
12 Tepai Moeroa
13 Anthony Watmough
14 Isaac De Gois
15 Joseph Paulo
16 Danny Wicks
17 David Gower
1 Sam Tomkins
2 Jonathan Wright
3 Tuimoala Lolohea
4 Solomone Kata
5 Manu Vatuvei
6 Chad Townsend
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Jacob Lillyman
9 Thomas Leuluai
10 Ben Matulino
11 Bodene Thompson
12 Ryan Hoffman
13 Simon Mannering (c)
14 Nathan Friend
15 Ben Henry
16 Sam Lisone
17 Albert Vete
18 Matthew Allwood