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Warriors look to make a statement against premiership heavyweights
Coming into 2018 as one of the premiere sides of the competition, the Sydney Roosters have made their intentions known over the past fortnight with a set of attacking master classes inspired by the return of Luke Keary. With the majority of attention being placed on high-profile purchases James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk over the off-season, Keary has proven to be the leading figurehead of the Roosters wins over Canterbury and Newcastle with his presence providing a calming influence throughout the side that was sorely missed during the sides opening round loss to the Tigers. Heading into Round 4 eager to assert their authority over the undefeated Warriors, coach Trent Robinson will be wary of the threat posed by the Auckland-based outfit, while stressing the importance of maintaining high standards throughout the entire 80 minutes to ensure his side doesn't suffer the same fate as the Raiders last week. Retaining the same squad that disposed of Newcastle in a seven-try rout last Sunday, the Roosters will be hoping the decision to host the fixture at Allianz Stadium for the first time since 2015 continues a strong run of form against the Warriors in Sydney, with the Eastern Suburbs outfit claiming three wins over their opponents from their past four clashes at the venue.
As one of only two sides undefeated after three rounds, the New Zealand Warriors have emerged as the shock success story of 2018. Renown for notoriously slow starts and even ghastlier finishes to seasons, the Warriors have demonstrated a rarely seen commitment and willingness to finish matches ahead on the scoreboard that has seen them gain the admiration of non-partisan supporters, albeit with reservations given recent history surrounding the club. Heading into the Easter weekend full of confidence, coach Stephen Kearney will be looking to extend the side's strong record over the Roosters in recent years, which has seen the Auckland-based outfit claim victory in the past three meetings. Still without the services of long-serving former captain Simon Mannering, the side has been forced into changes brought on by the suspension of prop Sam Lisione. As a result, Agnatius Paasi will start in the front row with Adam Blair shifting to lock, while Tevita Satae will play his first match of the season as the new man on the bench. While the Warriors have gained many admirers in the wake of their strong start to the season, Saturday night's clash should prove to be a strong indicator of where the side ranks in the competition hierarchy. With South Sydney, Gold Coast and Canberra experiencing underwhelming starts to 2018, the challenge presented by facing off against one of the competition heavyweights may see the Warriors regress back to their former selves or announce the arrival of a new contender in the quest for premiership glory.
Last meeting: Round 9 2017 - Warriors 14 Roosters 13
Who to watch: Having borne considerable criticism in the wake of the Blues performance in Origin III last season, Roosters flyer Blake Ferguson has started 2018 intent on proving his representative days are far from over. Averaging over 200 metres per game, the 28-year-old has been instrumental in providing the Roosters with a platform to score points courtesy of his potent dummy half runs, while chiming in with regular frequency as shown by his standing as the league's equal leading try scorer. Currently in his fourth season with the Roosters, Ferguson has been among the club's most consistent performers since returning from an NRL imposed exile and will be eager to continue his promising start to 2018, not only in the hopes of securing a new deal, but as he chases a premiership title that has eluded him since debuting in first grade as a teenager.
Since making his first grade debut in 2011, few players have epitomised the performance of the Warriors over the past decade better than Shaun Johnson. Ascending to superstar status with his ability to dazzle opponents and impact a game with the same effect as the NRL elite, the 27-year-old has frustrated supporters with his inability to maintain quality throughout the course of a season. Benefitting greatly from the arrival of Blake Green over the opening weeks of 2018, Johnson has shown a willingness to remain enthusiastic in attack while stepping up to deliver match winning plays when called upon, as demonstrated by his performance in nailing two field goals to defeat the Raiders last week. Facing the side he debuted against seven years ago, Johnson has well and truly outgrown his status as a player with unknown potential, but whether he is capable of elevating his standing alongside the likes of Thurston and Cronk will be determined by how he conducts himself on the field this season.
The favourite: Having humbled the Newcastle Knights in a show of unified strength, the Roosters are expected to deliver a similar treatment to the Warriors.
My tip: While the Warriors have started 2018 with a set of performances few rivals could ignore, the quality of their previous opponents has not been comparable to the challenge they face on Saturday night. Roosters by 12.
1. James Tedesco 2. Reece Robinson 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 9. Jake Friend 10. Dylan Napa 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Isaac Liu 14. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 15. Zane Tetevano 16. Mitchell Aubusson 17. Victor Radley
1. Roger Tuivasa-sheck 2. David Fusitua 3. Peta Hiku 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Blake Green 18. Mason Lino 17. Bunty Afoa 9. Issac Luke 10. Agnatius Paasi 11. Leivaha Pulu 12. Tohu Harris 13. Adam Blair 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Ligi Sao 16. Chris Satae 20. Anthony Gelling
Referees: Henry Perenara, Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Ricky MacFarlane; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;