The Warriors welcome back a host of NRL stars as they attempt to defeat the Canterbury Bulldogs for the first time in 2015 in this Sunday’s elimination final.
The Bulldogs hold a heavy psychological advantage, beating the Warriors in both contests this season.
They won a close game against the Warriors in round two by eight points, before putting the sword through them in a dominating 52-8 performance in round 13.
While Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore is fully aware of the recent success against the Warriors, he is wary of the sudden influx of players returning to their squad, mixed with their traditionally risky style of play that leads to points.
“The Warriors are capable of scoring plenty of points, and even though we’ve had a couple of wins against them this year, a few of their boys have had a bit more first grade experience - so they’ll certainly be hungry,” said Patmore.
“We need to make sure to stop their roll on. When they’ve got that, they play a lot of good footy on the edges to the big blokes, so defence [will be the focus]. We know we can score points, we’ve just got to make sure we can stop them.”
Warriors coach Stacey Jones is disappointed with the Warriors’ 43-10 loss to Mounties last week, and is adamant his side will need to aim up physically if they are any chance against a big Bulldogs outfit.
“Bulldogs play a physical game, and last time they played that’s where they well and truly got us. We’ve just got to turn up with a mindset that we’ve got to be tough and meet them front on,” said Jones.
“The Bulldogs, they’re a big side. A lot of their players have been pretty consistent performers for them all year. So the main thing is we have to really worry about ourselves. We’ve got to meet their physical challenge that they’re going to bring. They’re not going to go soft at all, and we’ve got to meet it.”
In what is a certain boost to the Warriors outfit, no inclusion is more important than custodian halfback Mason Lino.
Jones is delighted to have Lino, as well as a number of quality players return to his side for the do-or-die clash.
“We’ve got about seven players back from first grade so that will help,” said Jones.
“Its huge, the last six weeks we’ve played with an inexperienced team or an understrength team because of the injuries that we have and first grade. Unfortunately the [Warriors] NRL team won’t be playing playoffs, but we’ve got players that are eligible to play for us, so they need to step up to the challenge and lead the way.”
Patmore is attempting to combat the inclusion of such players by preparing his team as if they were playing a first grade side.
“That extra first grade experience from Mason Lino right across, they’ve all gained a bit and they’re all probably hungry to try and cement a first grade spot for next year. So we’re preparing ourselves like we’re playing a first grade team,” said Patmore.
A battle of two big forward packs, with creative halves and two sides that play an expansive style of football, this elimination semi-final is set to be a riveting affair.
New Zealand Warriors v Canterbury Bulldogs: Jubilee Oval, Sunday September 13, 6.10pm
WARRIORS: 1 VILIAMI KAVEINGA 2 SAULA SOLOMONA 3 MATT ALLWOOD 4 DOMINIQUE PEYROUX 5 KEN MAUMALO 6 ATA HINGANO 7 MASON LINO 8 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO 9 SILIVA HAVILI 10 SIONE LOUSI 11 JOHN PALAVI (c) 12 RAYMOND FAITALA-MARINER 13 DAVID BHANA 14 ZAC TIPPINS 15 JAMES BELL 16 UPU POCHING 17 PAKI AFU 18 DANIEL PALAVI COACH STACEY JONES
BULLDOGS: 1 COREY THOMPSON 2 TYRONE PHILLIPS 3 CHASE STANLEY 4 LEVI DODD 5 JARROD MCINALLY 6 MATT FRAWLEY 7 JALINE GRAHAM 8 ANTONIO KAUFUSI 9 BRAD CLARK 10 DANNY FUALALO 11 PAT O’HANLON 12 ADAM ELLIOTT 13 JASON SCHIRNACK 14 ALEX SORGE 15 TAUTALATASI TASI 16 GEORGE TSIKRIKAS 17 MAKAHESI MAKATOA COACH ANDREW PATMORE
This article first appeared on NRL.com