It’s been a busy week at NRL Warrior HQ so there’s been no time to tell stories, but despite the men from Mt Smart sitting safely in the Top 4 regardless of what happens on Friday night, this game feels particularly important to set the tone for the remainder of the season. Here’s six things I’ll be watching out for against the Dragons.
SET OF SIX
1) Defensive line speed. Sometimes it’s hard to get a true gauge of overall energy levels unless you’re at the ground, but even watching again on replay the Warriors were noticeably flat against the Broncos in comparison to the first five weeks of the season. They’ll need to lift to have any chance against the unbeaten Dragons, and focusing on the movement of the defensive line in the first 5–10 minutes should give a good indication of whether the Warriors are up for the fight.
2) Can the Warriors hold their own in the middle of the park? The Broncos marched downfield at will in Round 6, and the Dragons’ pack is an even more daunting proposition. For the Warriors to be any chance of getting back to winning ways, they’ll need to at least hold their own in the forward battle.
3) Can the Warriors shift to Plan B? Brisbane came to Mt Smart with a clear plan to shut down the Warriors’ go-forward, and it worked. They packed the middle, inviting the Warriors to go wide early and attack the edges. On the few occasions when the men from Mt Smart accepted the invitation, they looked dangerous, but all too often they seemed unwilling to deviate from what had worked over the first five weeks. If St George use similar tactics, the Warriors will need to be a lot braver in order to win.
4) The back three. Much of the Warriors’ field position comes from how they start their sets and get out of their own end, and the back three are the most crucial component. If Tuivasa-Sheck, Fusitu’a and Maumalo are making metres and getting quick play-the-balls, the Warriors are dangerous. If not, it could be a long night.
5) The bench. With Anthony Gelling moving into the starting line-up after the injury to Solomone Kata, I’m hoping that final bench spot will be filled by another forward. The impact of the bench has been a massive strength of the Warriors so far this season — big forwards bringing high energy in sustained bursts. If it works, it could change how Coach Kearney views that fourth interchange spot in the weeks to come.
6) Can Mason Lino do it again? With reports suggesting Shaun Johnson will be ruled out, Mason Lino gets another chance to step up. He rose to the occasion against the Roosters — can he lead the Warriors to victory again?
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS