Damage Control

The Warriors rollercoaster is slowing to a halt. It’s nearly time to unclip the harness and step off the ride, time to get back on solid ground, to grab a toffee apple and some candy floss then watch on as those remaining duke it out for the ultimate prize.

There seems little chance of any last-minute excitement — we’re all prepared for another defeat — right now it feels like the best we can hope for is a little damage control. The club has taken hit after hit, on and off the field, and in many ways the end feels like a relief. Time to clear the head, for key guys to rest up and get healthy, and fresh faces to arrive.

But, before we can deposit 2015 in the memory bank and move on to Mad Monday, there’s still the small matter of the Bulldogs on Sunday night. A few weeks ago, this looked like the perfect warm-up to the Finals, but we all know what’s happened since then. The Doggies have been at the opposite end of the formline, with four straight wins giving them an outside shot at the Top 4 (they need the Sharks to lose to Manly and to beat the Warriors by 81 points!).

Regardless of where they finish, the Bulldogs are a side other teams will hope to avoid in the Finals series. For all the misguided talk about the Warriors having a giant forward pack, the Doggies’ pack actually is huge. Kasiano, Klemmer, Pritchard, Eastwood and the British Bulldog James Graham — they thrive on intimidation, and it’s enough to give this inexperienced Warriors’ side nightmares.

And, to go along with their size, these Bulldogs are more agile than you might think. Moses Mbye has emerged as a potential superstar this season, doing enough to force Origin halfback Trent Hodkinson out of the club, and Curtis Rona has become one of NRL’s best finishers in 2015. They’ve got threats all over the park, and the Warriors really need to play with desire for the entire 80 minutes or this could get even uglier than recent weeks.

What to watch for:

The Warriors’ line speed on defence. The men from Mt Smart have started well in their two previous games, but, once the initial adrenalin has worn off, both the Cowboys and Tigers have found it much too easy to waltz down the field and park themselves at the Warriors’ end, huffing and puffing until the Warriors’ house falls down. If you notice the Kiwi side hanging back, it’s time to put your hands over your eyes and prepare for the worst.

NRL Warrior prediction:

On current form, anything better than a 50-point hammering would be a good result for the men from Mt Smart. Warrior Nation is pragmatic enough to realise a win is unlikely against an in-form Bulldogs side tuning up for the Finals. Once again, the result is less important than simply showing some pride in the performance. Ben Matulino and Chad Townsend return, but that Warriors backline is so inexperienced it sends shivers up my spine. If the Doggies get a roll on and the Warriors’ heads drop, look out. Bulldogs by 40.

Last meeting between these sides:

Teams:

WARRIORS

1 Tuimoala Lolohea

2 Matt Allwood

3 Dominique Peyroux

4 Solomone Kata

5 Jonathan Wright

6 Chad Townsend

7 Mason Lino

8 Albert Vete

9 Nathan Friend

10 Ben Matulino

11 Bodene Thompson

12 Ryan Hoffman

13 Simon Mannering (c)

Interchange

14 Konrad Hurrell (played in NSW Cup so likely to be replaced)

15 Raymond Faitala-Mariner

16 Sebastine Ikahihifo

17 Sam Lisone

18 Siliva Havili (played in NSW Cup so likely to be replaced)

BULLDOGS

1 Brett Morris

2 Curtis Rona

3 Josh Morris

4 Tim Lafai

5 Sam Perrett

6 Josh Reynolds

7 Moses Mbye

8 Aiden Tolman

9 Damien Cook

10 James Graham (c)

11 Josh Jackson

12 Frank Pritchard

13 Greg Eastwood

Interchange

14 Sam Kasiano

15 Shaun Lane

16 David Klemmer

17 Tim Browne

19 Lloyd Perrett

20 Chase Stanley

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