New Zealand Warriors head home after a successful trip across the ditch and will host the struggling North Queensland Cowboys at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Warriors have started the season with four straight wins for the first time in their 23 year history and have been the real surprise packet of the competition. After going into the previous few seasons with so much expectation the ‘experts’ seemed to have run out of patience with the New Zealand side with most predicting them to struggle in season 2018. It’s clear to see the Warriors have had a big off season with plenty of fitness work and soul searching done as they look a different side this year.
In comparison most pundits had tipped a big season for the Townsville side after finishing last season with a flurry and the return of stars Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott, but it hasn’t all gone to plan so far for JT and his men. A run of three straight losses and injuries to key players Lachlan Coote and Jordan Mclean has the Cowboys just off the pace so far this season.
When you’re winning things just seem to go your way and for the Warriors they welcome back three key players for this weeks clash, former captain Simon Mannering will make his first appearance for the season whilst star halfback Shaun Johnson will return after missing last weeks match, forward Sam Lisone will also return from suspension to add some impact from the bench.
Whilst things go your way when you’re winning the opposite happens when you’re losing and for the Cowboys they were dealt another cruel blow after the heavy home defeat to Penrith learning new recruit Jordan McLean will miss 12 weeks with a foot injury. Scott Bolton will replace him in the starting side whilst grand final player Corey Jensen will take his spot on the bench.
Before the season started you would have expected the Cowboys to be enjoying an unbeaten start to the season and the Warriors to once again start theirs slowly, but in a year to date that has been ‘upside down’ it’s the Warriors who are flying high and the Cowboys searching for answers.
The key match up in this game will be the battle between the spines of either side, the Warriors much maligned spine of Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke have gone to a new level this season with the addition of five – eighth Blake Green. So much has been expected of that trio for the past few seasons with disappointing results, but the addition of the experienced Green seems to have made a positive influence on not just those three players but the entire squad, so much so that Green’s name has been mentioned for a State of Origin spot.
Whilst the Cowboys boast one of the best spines in the competition they have seemed to struggle for ‘cohesion’ this year which could be down to a number of reasons, but you can be assured it won’t be long before they’re all reading from the same page again. This game promises to be a tight affair and it will likely come down to the battle of the key play makers and who comes up with the match winning play.
“We’re doing some really good things throughout matches, but we’re not doing it on a consistent basis which is a challenge for us to making sure we put out a 80 minute performances” – Jonathan Thurston
“I’m really proud of the team” – Simon Mannering
The Cowboys have won the past four meetings between these sides with the last Warriors victory coming in March 2014.
Warriors: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), 2 David Fusitua, 3 Peta Hiku, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Blake Green, 7 Shaun Johnson, 8 Bunty Afoa, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Agnatius Paasi, 11 Leivaha Pulu, 12 Tohu Harris, 13 Adam Blair, 14 Jazz Tevaga, 15 Sam Lisone, 16 Simon Mannering, 17 Anthony Gelling, 18 Ligi Sao, 19 Mason Lino, 20 Tevita Satae, 21 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Cowboys: 1 Ben Hampton, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Javid Bowen, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo, 14 Te Maire Martin, 15 John Asiata, 16 Corey Jensen, 17 Ethan Lowe, 18 Francis Molo, 19 Lachlan Coote, 20 Enari Tuala, 21 Kyle Laybutt
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday, 7th of April
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Kick-off: 5:30pm (AET)
WHO WILL WIN?
In what has been a nightmare start to the season for tipsters who wins this game is anyone’s guess. The form lines will say the Warriors should continue their winning start to the season, but history will tell you the Warriors can’t be consistent for too long and the Cowboys usually take a couple of weeks to get going. With little confidence I’m trusting my gut instinct and backing JT and the Cowboys to get the job done in a high quality match.