Zombie Apocalypse

I’m not quite sure I understand the connection between zombies and rugby league, but whoever came up with this match-day theme must have had a premonition that by Round 14, impending doom would be lurking just around the corner.

After the hammering the Warriors suffered against the South Sydney Gladiators, any momentum they’d gathered from three prior victories has been brutally savaged. And it doesn’t get any easier this week, despite a depleted Roosters side lurching into town fresh off a loss to the lowly Sharks.

The Warriors have been cannibalising themselves all season, with error after error piling on the pressure week after week, and if they don’t start to tidy things up soon, they’ll quickly become the walking dead. I hate to hit the panic button early, but the men from Mt Smart desperately need to put in an improved performance or risk losing the fair-weather fans until 2016.

One thing that seems clear from extensive internet research, is that when zombies are in town, it pays to have weapons at the ready. The Warriors aren’t short on attacking ammunition, but it’s their defensive line that needs the most reinforcement. Siliva Havili and Super-Solid Man Jonathan Wright (perhaps unfairly) have paid the price for the team’s capitulation in Perth, but it’s questionable whether the changes will do anything to stop the bleeding. How the men from Mt Smart cope with the Roosters’ attacking bite will be the biggest determinant in deciding this game.

The Chooks have problems of their own, without their Origin stars and unable to find the consistency of recent seasons. Their side still looks very strong on paper, though, and no doubt all their Kiwis will be up for a big game. While many of the crowd will be excited to see 2016 Warrior Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (doesn’t that sound good!) in action, personally I’m looking forward to watching Sio Siua Taukeiaho. The former Warriors junior, who won a grand final alongside Konrad Hurrell and Sebastine Ikahihifo in 2011, has really made a name for himself this season, becoming one of Ray Warren’s favourite players. It’s not easy to cheer for the opposition, but it’s great to see products of Mt Smart making waves in the big time.

Another interesting side note is the naming of Suaia Matagi as the Roosters’ 18th man. Whether he’ll get a spot in the run-on 17, who knows, but wouldn’t he be useful coming off that Warriors bench?

Who do you think will have the last laugh?

What to watch for:

How the Warriors use their bench should be very interesting. In particular, how they inject Tui Lolohea into the action. Lolohea has been ever-present in the Warriors side this season, making a good fist of things at both fullback and centre, but it’s hard to see how he fits an interchange role. Will we see him come on at dummy-half to give Nathan Friend a rest? Will Konrad Hurrell move to the second row and Lolohea to centre? With two of his most consistent and reliable forwards (I heart Hoffman and Jacob Lillyman) on Origin duty, how Coach Cappy manoeuvres his forward pack becomes even more important — there’s no room for dead weight.

NRL Warrior prediction:

Maybe it’s just all this talk about zombies, but I’ve got a horrible feeling about this game. The Warriors go into the match as favourites, and the Chooks have lost some very good players to Origin. But there are still serious question marks hanging over this Warriors’ defence, especially on the edges. They’ll miss Hoffman greatly — it’s hard to see how a centre pairing of Hurrell and Kata, with Townsend and Faitala-Mariner close by, can keep anywhere near a clean sheet without the Hoff there to tidy things up. It pains me to say this, and I hope I’m wrong, but if I had to stake my dog’s life on it, Roosters by 14.

Highlights from the latest meeting:

Teams

WARRIORS

1 Sam Tomkins

2 Ken Maumalo

3 Konrad Hurrell

4 Solomone Kata

5 Manu Vatuvei

6 Chad Townsend

7 Shaun Johnson

8 Albert Vete

9 Nathan Friend

10 Ben Matulino

11 Bodene Thompson

12 Raymond Faitala-Mariner

13 Simon Mannering (c)

Interchange

14 Tuimoala Lolohea

15 Seb Ikahihifo

16 Sam Lisone

17 Charlie Gubb

18 Jonathan Wright

ROOSTERS

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

2 Daniel Tupou

3 Shaun Kenny-Dowall

4 Blake Ferguson

5 Brendan Elliot

6 James Maloney

7 Jackson Hastings

8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

9 Jake Friend (c)

10 Sam Moa

11 Sio Siua Taukeiaho

12 Mitchell Aubusson

13 Isaac Liu

Interchange

14 Matt McIlwrick

15 Willie Manu

16 Kane Evans

17 Dylan Napa

18 Suaia Matagi

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