Warriors v Rabbitohs Preview

The honour of playing their 50th NRL match against the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Ericsson Stadium on Sunday isn?t all left wing Francis Meli and utility Wairangi Koopu share.

Both players made their first grade debut in 1999 and both have only been playing regularly at top level since Daniel Anderson?s arrival as Vodafone Warriors coach. The contribution each makes to the Warriors cause, however, could not be more contrasting, Anderson notes.

"Francis is one of the team's strike weapons," he says."He's hard to tackle, got great footwork, good speed, enormous power, and he?s big. In fact, of all the wingers in the NRL, only John Hopoate would be bigger."

Following Hopoate's work-rate for Manly would make Meli an even better player, insists Anderson. The giant Tongan caused them endless problems at Brookvale last weekend, before the Warriors prevailed 20-16 with a last minute try to Clinton Toopi, set up by late replacement Justin Murphy.

"Francis reminds me of a cheetah. He?s explosive for a short period of time, goes to sleep for a while, and then comes to life again. Hopoate made 27 very effective carries last week. We?re looking for something similar in Francis. I know blokes hate tackling him. The sooner he realises that, the sooner he'll become an even better footballer."

Contrast that to Koopu, who Anderson says is one of the hardest working players in the team.

"Y's not flashy, but he's an integral part of the team. He does a lot of the shit work that doesn't get any reward or recognition.

"Everyone has their role. Y works hard on defence and his yardage game is very effective from dummy half. Team-mates like following him when he takes the ball up because he's quick at the play-the-ball region and that creates space."

Koopu has played in most positions on the field. When Anderson arrived he was still spending time in the backs at centre. But Koopu, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Wednesday, has no doubt his preferred position now.

"I like playing as a second rower-loose forward, up the middle of the field," he says. ?There are other big, rangy second rowers who are better suited to playing out wide than I am. And it's too boring in the centres, too slow and not enough ball."

Koopu saw enough of South Sydney's match against North Queensland on Monday to know they won't be a pushover this weekend.

Although the Rabbitohs have yet to win in 2003, Koopu says they pushed the Bulldogs all the way in the opening round (lost 34-26) and were only eight seconds away from victory the following week before Bent Tate's try gave the Broncos a 22-20 win.

"Souths have been close in all their matches so far, which means they'll be even more desperate when they come to Auckland," says Koopu, who recalls them giving the Warriors a torrid battle last year at Ericsson before the home side won 25-18.

Kick-off is 2pm, Sunday (NZ time).