NRL.com Bulldogs v Warriors Preview

Bulldogs v Warriors
ANZ Stadium
Sunday 6.30pm (AEST), 8.30pm (NZT)

After copping back-to-back 50-16 thrashings the last thing the Warriors want to finish the season is a trip to ANZ Stadium to face the high-flying Bulldogs.

But while the season can't end soon enough for the Kiwi outfit, Canterbury have plenty to play for on Sunday with a top four spot still well in their reach if they can claim victory. 

After narrowly edging past the Knights 20-18 last up the Dogs received a boost mid-week with the return of prop Aiden Tolman.

That sees Sam Kasiano move to the bench at the expense of 18th man Lloyd Perrett, while the injured Trent Hodkinson is replaced by Josh Reynolds in the halves.

Despite losing fullback Sam Tomkins to a knee injury the Warriors actually get some experience back for the Round 26 clash, with Chad Townsend (injury) and Ben Matulino (suspension) returning to the fold. 

Sebastine Ikahihifo drops back to the bench to cover for the suspended Charlie Gubb, and Raymond Faitala-Mariner replaces Sione Lousi on the bench.

Watch out Bulldogs: The loss of Hodkinson is a big one, and his attacking productivity will be tough to replace. The NSW halfback's 12 try assists are the most of any Bulldog this season, while he has also set up the most line breaks. New halves pairing Moses Mbye and Reynolds will have plenty asked of them on Sunday.

They also come up against a Warriors side with nothing to lose. It has been an embarrassing collapse for the Warriors over the last two months, but now with no chance of making the finals or collecting the spoon we might just see a carefree attitude from the Kiwi side with plenty of open footy.

Watch out Warriors: Back-to-back defeats by 34 points, conceding 50 on both occasions, means the Warriors have now leaked the third-most points in the competition. Coach Andrew McFadden won't have to look far for the reasons behind the floodgates opening either, with a combined 82 missed tackles in their last two outings, averaging out at 41 per game. 

Already struggling to hold on to any form of team morale, footage emerging of a group of players partying less than 48 hours before being thrashed by the Tigers won't have done anything to foster positive relationships. With murmurs already circulating throughout the playing group that some individuals are trying harder than others, it is the type of incident which can cause a divide and be detrimental to on-field performance. 

Key Match-Up: Damien Cook v Nathan Friend. When Michael Lichaa's season was ended by injury in Round 23 many feared the Dogs would find it impossible to replace him. Enter Cook, the 24-year-old former Dragon who has stepped up to almost seamlessly fill the void in the No.9 jersey. In defence he has been a workaholic, averaging 48.5 tackles, while offensively he has a try and line break in both of his games this year. Meanwhile Friend, in his last season with the Warriors before joining the Gold Coast, has been one of the side's most-consistent performers, playing 80 minutes in the last three games and averaging 31 tackles across the season.

The History: Played 32; Bulldogs 18, Warriors 12, Draw 2. The Bulldogs have had a great time against the Warriors in recent years and have won 12 of their last 16, dating back to 2004. The last three games have been close ones at least, with eight points the biggest winning margin.

Did You Know: This weekend sees the coming together of the two 'most Kiwi' sides in the Telstra Premiership. While the Warriors obviously lead the way in terms of sheer numbers of New Zealanders in their squad (13 out of 18 named this week), the Bulldogs run second with six of their 19 men named having either been born in or represented New Zealand.   

Match Officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Grant Atkins. Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Jeff Younis. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Ben Galea.

Televised: Fox Sports - Live from 6.30pm AEST. Sky Sport – Live from 8.30pm NZT. 

The Way We See It: The Bulldogs have won four in a row, including two victories over fellow top eight sides, and just like last season appearing to be peaking at just the right time. While the Belmore boys are going forward the Warriors are in freefall, and it's very hard to see anything other than a comfortable win for the hosts. Canterbury by 30.

This article first appeared on NRL.com