Warriors v Knights preview - 2017 Round 1
Two teams with something different to prove clash in an intriguing Sunday afternoon match.
Sunday's battle with Newcastle actually shapes as quite important for the Warriors if they want to start their season on the right foot.
It was the Warriors we knew all too well last season. They promised so much and yet failed to even break into the top eight. Many experts seemed to have finally learnt that, despite possessing one of the most dangerous spines in the competition, the Warriors always seem to be unable to fulfil their potential. Hence, a comprehensive win against the Knights would be the perfect way to open their 2017 season. The home side will welcome star fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck back from long-term injury, however their fans will have to wait until Round 3 for Kieran Foran's debut. What the Warriors will have to overcome is the fact that they have not won a Round 1 match since 2007.
A victory, however, is not guaranteed against a Newcastle side, who are well aware that the only way is up after two consecutive last placed finishes. Their chances of improvement in 2017 were unfortunately dealt a series of cruel blows during the off-season. In particular, Newcastle fans may recall a horrid week in mid-January in which Jarrod Mullen tested positive to an anabolic steroid, Pauli Pauli was sidelined with a dislocated hip suffered in a car crash on the M1 and forward Korbin Sims was released back to Brisbane.
As a result, Brock Lamb partners Trent Hodkinson in the halves while Luke Yates and Sam Stone make their debuts off the bench. Although trials mean relatively little when the actual season kicks off, Newcastle's 44-0 drubbing of an albeit understrength Raiders outfit signalled there may be hope in the end for their suffering fans. Standing in their way, however, is an awful record at Mt Smart Stadium in recent history, having lost 10 of their past 11 at the venue.
Who to watch: For the home side, with Kieran Foran set to return in Round 3, his twenty-year-old replacement Ata Hingano will be looking to impress in his short stint in first grade. Hingano already got a taste of the top grade late last year, yet the Warriors lost both games quite comfortably, denying Hingano much of a chance of showcasing his strengths. His potential was signalled in a noteworthy 2015 Holden Cup campaign which included 23 try assists and 148 points in just 17 appearances. Although pressure is often placed on fellow halfback Shaun Johnson, Hingano's performance will still be crucial if the Warriors are to prevail on Sunday afternoon.
If the Knights are going to avoid the dreaded Wooden Spoon in 2017, they need more from representative centre Dane Gagai. Gagai has the potential to be a constant attacking threat for a Newcastle side that obviously struggled in that category last season. However, other than his impressive 97 tackle busts, Gagai only managed 4 tries and 8 line breaks last year whilst also making 25 errors. This was all in 22 games. In saying this, he possesses the ability to single-handedly spark this Newcastle side, as evident in his starring role in their 24-14 victory over the Warriors in 2015. His involvement will be key on Sunday.
My tip: This one could be a lot closer than the market suggests. Both sides have a lot to prove and I just feel on this occasion the Knights might be that bit hungrier to build some much needed confidence. Knights by 4.
1. Roger Tuivasa-sheck 2. Tuimoala Lolohea 3. David Fusitua 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Mafoa'aeata Hingano 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Albert Vete 9. Issac Luke 10. Charlie Gubb 11. Bunty Afoa 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Simon Mannering 15. Jacob Lillyman 16. Sam Lisone 17. Isaiah Papalii 18. Bodene Thompson
1. Dylan Phythian 2. Ken Sio 3. Dane Gagai 4. Peter Mata'utia 5. Nathan Ross 6. Brock Lamb 7. Trent Hodkinson 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Danny Levi 10. Josh Starling 11. Sione Mata'utia 12. Jamie Buhrer 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Luke Yates 15. Jack Stockwell 16. Sam Stone 17. Jacob Saifiti