Must-win in Middle Earth

I’m not quite sure who thought it would be a good idea to take a bunch of Dragons to Middle Earth, but the Warriors have no choice now but to fight for their lives.

While there’s only one win separating the Red V and a seven-game losing streak, the men from Mt Smart find themselves in a slump of their own. Three consecutive losses have turned a promising season into one on the brink of collapse, and last week’s performance threw up more questions than answers.

Is there still life in this Warriors outfit?

Can they score points without Shaun Johnson?

Will they ever fix the edge defence?

If there’s ever a game where the Warriors need to have no fear, this is it. It’s desperation time — grab a treasured two points and recapture that winning feeling, or watch the season go up in smoke. Their record against the Dragons is terrible — four wins from 22 matches — and they’ve only won once in seven visits to Westpac Stadium. But the Warriors need to forget about the stats, forget about the last three weeks, forget about Shaun Johnson and trust in their ability and in each other.

Yes, the men from Mt Smart showed huge improvements in terms of ball control and energy against the Sharks, but they lacked the creativity to turn their territorial domination into dominance on the scoreboard. As much as I’ve praised a gameplan focussed around control and patience, I get the feeling that they’ll need more than 14 points to defeat a Dragons side with the likes of Benji Marshall, Josh Dugan and Gareth Widdop.

Given the struggles on attack, I’m utterly confused by the Konrad Hurrell omission. The defensive aspects of his game are often criticised, but there’s no question in my mind the Dragons would much rather see Jonathan Wright than Konrad Hurrell standing opposite. For a Warriors side that has scored just 26 points in their last three games, and that has recently lost their best attacking weapon, I’m stunned there’s no place for a wrecking ball like Hurrell.

What to watch for:

Manu Vatuvei to get more touches at the attacking end. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but surely we’ll see the Warriors try to get The Beast more involved. He’s enormous bringing the ball out of his own end, but there’s a real chance he could do some damage against this small-ish Dragons backline if given space and one-on-one opportunities.

NRL Warrior prediction:

The more I think about this game, the worse I feel about it. If you’d asked me about the match a month ago, I’d have told you it was two competition points in the bank. History will tell you there’s no good time to be taking on a Dragon, but the Cronulla game has really made me question whether the current gameplan can work without Shaun Johnson in the side. I’d love to be proved wrong, but the Dragons just keep burning me year after year and we could be in for another night of frustration on Saturday. Dragons by 4.

Highlights from previous meeting:

Apologies — I wasn’t able to track down the Round 7 game from last year, but here’s the footage from Round 2 at Eden Park.

Teams:

WARRIORS

1 Sam Tomkins

2 Ken Maumalo

3 Jonathan Wright

4 Solomone Kata

5 Manu Vatuvei

6 Chad Townsend

7 Tuimoala Lolohea

8 Jacob Lillyman

9 Nathan Friend

10 Albert Vete

11 Ben Matulino

12 Simon Mannering (c)

13 Sebastine Ikahihifo

Interchange

14 Siliva Havili

15 Sam Lisone

16 Charlie Gubb

17 Raymond Faitala-Mariner

18 Dominique Peyroux

DRAGONS

1 Josh Dugan

2 Dylan Farrell

3 Euan Aitken

4 Peter Mata’utia

5 Kiti Glymin

6 Gareth Widdop

7 Benji Marshall

8 Leeson Ah Mau

9 Mitch Rein

10 Ben Creagh (c)

11 Tyson Frizell

12 Joel Thompson

13 Mike Cooper

Interchange

14 Craig Garvey

15 Trent Merrin

16 Will Matthews

17 Jack de Belin

18 Justin Hunt

19 Jake Marketo

24 Mark Ioane

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