Wild Wild West

The Warriors head to Perth on the back of three consecutive victories, part of a remarkable string of five games where the winning margin has been exactly four points.

Side note — this article, perhaps every article, is better read while listening to this.


In the two previous encounters between these sides in Perth, the Warriors have been quick on the draw, putting together fantastic first-half performances, only to turn into pumpkins when the clock strikes midnight New Zealand time.

Much is always made of the long trip to the Wild Wild West, but the Mt Smart gunslingers can at least take comfort in the fact Saturday’s game will be played in the afternoon (Perth time), which means they can leave the No-Doz back in Penrose and trust they can stay alert for the full 80 minutes.

And switched on is exactly how they’ll need to be. The last three victories — against the Sharks, the Eels and the Knights — may have been heart-stopping, but they haven’t exactly produced the dominant performance we’ve all been waiting for. Lapses in concentration, both on defence and with the ball in hand, are proving costly on the scoreboard, but fortunately the men from Mt Smart are discovering a knack for collecting the two points, no matter how difficult they’re making it look.

Saturday should prove a much bigger test, and a real opportunity for the Warriors to show how far they’ve come since the Anzac Day collapse against the Titans. A win would move them ahead of the Wascally Wabbits on the ladder, and give them a huge confidence boost going into their game against an Origin-depleted Roosters side the following week. In other words, and I know it’s becoming a cliché, but these next two games look crucial to the outcome of this season. Win and dreams of a top 4 spot become much more of a reality, whereas two losses and the familiar scrap for the final playoff spot begins.

A quick search on YouTube for the ‘Main dangers in Perth’ suggests that the Warriors should keep an eye out for low-flying drones and also steer clear of any chemists.

But I’d argue they should be more concerned about GI and his friends.

The Wabbits may have lost a bit of their ‘fear factor’ with Sam Burgess’s move to rugby and the injury to Adam Reynolds, but with the likes of GI, Alex Johnston and Dylan Walker in their backline, there’s still plenty the Warriors will have to contend with. Walker especially is someone who has hurt the Warriors in the past, and with his acceleration and quick feet, plus a strong fend, he’s of a similar mould to Dane Gagai — who had such success at Mt Smart last weekend.

Saturday’s match will also be a good chance for future Warrior Issac Luke to get acquainted with his new friends, but it’s the men from Mt Smart who’ll be looking to establish dominance in the forwards. This Souths pack, aside from Luke, is seriously lacking in star power. If the Warriors’ big men can go in for the kill and really ram home that advantage, they’ll make life much easier for Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend to control the game. Johnson’s kicking game and his overall game management were superb against the Knights. ‘Magic’ Johnson is one of the first players targeted when things aren’t going well in Penrose, but a couple more performances like Sunday and there’ll be nothing but praise for the Golden Boot.

What to watch for:

I’m not sure I can quite emphasise how excited I am about the re-signing news during the week. Maybe this video from NRL Warrior HQ tells a better story.

Rival clubs would have been circling all four of the young stars (Tui Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Sam Lisone and Toafofoa Sipley) and it’s just fantastic to have them secured long-term. Kata and Lolohea have been grabbing the headlines so far this season, but I truly believe it is Sam Lisone who will prove to be the best of the bunch. Keep an eye on the energy he brings when he enters the game, and also watch for the silky skills he possesses for such a big man. As with any youngster, he’s got his ‘work-ons’, but I suggest you watch him closely and I’m sure you’ll be impressed.

NRL Warrior prediction:

This match shapes as a real statement game for the Warriors’ season. There’s been a lot of talk about the future in recent weeks, with the fantastic signings and re-signings they’ve made for 2016. As for where they stand in 2015, it’s still incredibly hard to get a gauge. And while that makes predicting a scoreline incredibly tough, by Saturday evening I think we’ll know whether this team is the real deal or whether we should make holiday plans for the end of September. Let’s err on the side of positivity and say Warriors by 7.

Highlights from the last meeting:

Teams:

WARRIORS

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 Nathan Friend

10 Ben Matulino

11 Bodene Thompson

12 Ryan Hoffman

13 Simon Mannering (c)

Interchange

14 Siliva Havili

15 Seb Ikahihifo

16 Sam Lisone

17 Albert Vete

18 Dominique Peyroux

21 Ken Maumalo

RABBITOHS

1 Greg Inglis (c)

2 Alex Johnston

3 Dylan Walker

4 Bryson Goodwin

5 Aaron Gray

6 John Sutton

7 Luke Keary

8 Thomas Burgess

9 Issac Luke

10 Dave Tyrrell

11 Nathan Brown

12 Chris McQueen

13 Jason Clark

Interchange

14 Cameron McInnes

15 Chris Grevsmuhl

16 Tim Grant

17 George Burgess

18 Ben Lowe

19 John Olive

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