Crystal Ball Gazing

Less than a year ago, Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo, Sam Lisone, and Mason Lino were preparing for the biggest game of their lives — the Grand Final of the 2014 Holden Cup.

Now they ready themselves for the Warriors’ final home match in an NRL season that has drastically fallen off the rails. The stakes are much lower in Saturday’s game than in their last match together, but for these young players, every hit-up, every tackle is a chance to strengthen their case for the future.

For Mason Lino, that Holden Cup Grand Final proved a turning point. The game was supposed to be his swansong at the Warriors — he’d signed a deal to play rugby at AS Carcassonne in France — but a shoulder injury derailed his plans. The men from Mt Smart threw him a lifeline and on Saturday night he’ll find himself standing opposite Johnathan Thurston, arguably the best player in rugby league.

On paper, this young Warriors side hasn’t got a chance. They come up against a Cowboys side that, despite losing back-to-back games, is choc-full of stars: Thurston, Scott, Morgan, Taumalolo — even role players like Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville have been raising eyebrows in 2015.

At times this season the Cowboys defence has been anything but water-tight, conceding nearly 20 points a game on average. However, given the Warriors have scored just 36 points from their past five outings, there’s little evidence to suggest the men from Mt Smart are about to reverse the formline. It’s likely Warrior Nation will need to look further than the scoreboard in their quest to find anything positive.

Take Tui Lolohea and Mason Lino vs Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston. It’s the biggest mismatch on the park, maybe the biggest mismatch of the Warriors’ season, but that’s what makes it so intriguing to watch. Could there be a better learning opportunity for these young men? With the Warriors’ finals hopes all but dead and buried, and potentially very few players in this week’s starting lineup who will feature in Round 1, 2016, it’s the perfect opportunity to gaze into the crystal ball and see what the future holds.

What to watch for:

The Warriors’ defensive line-speed. For me, that’s often the biggest indicator of how this side is travelling. When the energy is high, the men from Mt Smart can challenge anyone, but, when they sit back at let the play come to them, bad things usually happen. If the Warriors are to have any chance in this match, they’ll need to deny the Cowboys’ match-winners both time and space — otherwise it could be a long and painful night.

NRL Warrior prediction:

I’d love a fairytale home farewell to the 2015 season, but it’s hard to see this ending with anything other than a comfortable Cowboys victory. In saying that, I’m picking the Warriors to put up a decent fight and give the home fans at least a few moments to cheer about before they gather on the sacred turf for the family photo. Cowboys by 10 in a high-scoring encounter.

Previous meeting between these two sides:

Teams

WARRIORS

1 Sam Tomkins

2 Ken Maumalo

3 Dominique Peyroux

4 Solomone Kata

5 Jonathan Wright

6 Chad Townsend (has since been replaced by Mason Lino)

7 Tuimoala Lolohea

8 Jacob Lillyman

9 Nathan Friend

10 Albert Vete

11 Sione Lousi

12 Ryan Hoffman

13 Simon Mannering (c)

Interchange

14 Konrad Hurrell

15 Bodene Thompson

16 Sam Lisone

17 Charlie Gubb

18 Matthew Allwood

Cowboys

1 Lachlan Coote

2 Matthew Wright

3 Justin O’Neill

4 Kane Linnett

5 Antonio Winterstein

6 Michael Morgan

7 Johnathan Thurston (c)

8 Matthew Scott (c)

9 Jake Granville

10 James Tamou

11 John Asiata

12 Ethan Lowe

13 Jason Taumalolo

Interchange

14 Rory Kostjasyn

15 Coen Hess

16 Scott Bolton

17 Ben Hannant

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