Full Time
6:00pm Fri March 8, 2024
Round 1 - Go Media Stadium, Penrose / Aotearoa - Crowd: 24076

Round 1: Warriors v Sharks preview

Kelly looks at this weekend's game between the Warriors and the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at Go Media Stadium, Penrose / Aotearoa.

Tuivasa-Sheck's Homecoming Sets the Stage for NRL Showdown!

As the 2024 rugby league season kicks off, the New Zealand Warriors and the Cronulla Sharks are set to clash in an eagerly anticipated matchup. Both teams enter the season with mixed trial performances, each securing one win and suffering one loss in the lead-up to the official competition.

The Warriors faced a challenging start in Christchurch, falling to the Wests Tigers in the first week of trials. A first-half send-off added to their woes, but a resilient second-half performance saw them narrow the margin to just 2 points. They bounced back in the second week, defeating the Dolphins 34-22 in a display of cohesion among their first-grade players.

On the other side, the Sharks experienced a tough loss against a tough Newcastle Knights side in the opening week of trials, conceding 44-18. However, they showcased resilience in the following week, securing a hard-fought victory over the Bulldogs with a scoreline of 12-6. 

The contrasting trial journeys set the stage for an intriguing face-off as both teams return to Auckland, the same venue where they last met in Round 20, 2023. In their previous encounter, the Warriors dominated the Sharks with a convincing 44-12 victory. The New Zealand team showcased exceptional efficiency with a remarkable 91% completion rate, scoring 8 tries to the Sharks' 2 and committing minimal errors. 

Although both teams advanced to September footy, the Warriors went deeper into the finals, missing out on a Grand Final berth in a 42-12 loss to the Brisbane Broncos, while the Sharks went down to the Roosters by one point in the first week. These disappointing ends to solid 2023 campaigns for both sides will have them coming into the new season with a determination to go further in 2024.

Last meeting: Round 20 2023 - Warriors 44 Sharks 12

Who to watch: The spotlight is firmly fixed on Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as he returns to the New Zealand Warriors for his first official NRL game since departing in 2021 to pursue a rugby union career with the Auckland Blues. The dynamic player showcased his enduring prowess in the two trial games, making an immediate impact with impressive running stats of 134 and 196 running metres, including a notable 101 post-contact metres in his performance against the Dolphins. His trademark sidestep was on full display, leaving defenders in his wake. In a standout moment in the second trial, he orchestrated a last-minute try assist, securing the victory for the Warriors.  As the team prepares to face the Cronulla Sharks, the question lingers about Tuivasa-Sheck's role under coach Andrew Webster. Despite being the Dally M Fullback of the Year in 2018, Tuivasa-Sheck faces a positional shift, with Webster indicating that his favoured fullback position will be occupied by Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. Whether playing in the centres or on the wing, the anticipation surrounding Tuivasa-Sheck's return adds an intriguing layer to the Warriors' opening game of the season.

Eyes will be on Teig Wilton as he makes a comeback for the Cronulla Sharks in the upcoming NRL season after a season-ending injury in Round 20 last year - when the Sharks last played the Warriors. The 24-year-old second-rower has displayed resilience in both of the pre-season games, getting crucial meters in his legs, particularly in the second match against the Bulldogs, where he ran an impressive 110 meters, executed 12 hit-ups, and sealed the victory for the Sharks with a match-winning try.  Before his unfortunate injury in the 2023 season, Wilton showcased his dual-threat by scoring six tries in 17 games, highlighting his attacking prowess. Additionally, his defensive capabilities were evident, with an impressive tackle efficiency of 92%. As the Sharks gear up for their opening clash against the New Zealand Warriors, the return of Teig Wilton brings a potent combination of attacking flair and defensive solidity, making him a player to watch closely throughout the 2024 NRL season.

Favourite: At home and coming off a superb 2023, the 'Wahs' are comfortable favourites to start strong.

My tip:  The Warriors definitely looked more cohesive in their two trial games, especially with their second-week win against a strong Dolphins side. Warriors by 12.