Round 21: Warriors v Sharks preview - 2017 Round 21
Warriors fight to save their season from sleeping with the fishes
To take issue with the form shown by the Warriors since their last finals appearance could be considered ‘punching down'. Having failed to qualify once in the past five season despite boasting one of the most prestigious junior nurseries in the league and the ability to attract reputable stars possessing considerable international experience, critiquing the New Zealand club is the NRL equivalent of low-hanging fruit. Needing to win all their remaining matches to make a Stephen Bradbury-esque run towards the finals, the purpose of the remaining six weeks must bemuse coach Stephen Kearney as he is left to find meaning in yet another season of disappointment. Naming an unchanged lineup from the side that went down narrowly to the Cowboys last Saturday, the prospect of upsetting the defending premiers will almost certainly see the Warriors do what they do best - disappoint.
Sitting in fourth position with a resilient Cowboys outfit eyeing off a guaranteed second chance, the Sharks head into Friday's match in the knowledge that little is expected of the Warriors, but in that prospect lays great danger. Producing an unremarkable showing to account for the Rabbitohs last Friday, coach Shane Flanagan will have options at his disposal in determining James Maloney's replacement. Naming Bulldogs-bound utility Fa'amanu Brown in the number six jersey, the prospect of Jack Bird partnering Chad Townsend in the halves is not beyond the realm of possibility, while last-minute purchase Adam Clydesdale could make his club debut off the bench providing relief for James Segeyaro who is set to make his first starting appearance in the NRL since Round 1, 2016. Boasting seven wins from the past nine clashes, including a 100% success rate at Mt. Smart Stadium with Flanagan as coach, the Sharks should have little difficulty against the perpetual also-rans.
Who to watch: Having waited close to two years for another opportunity in the NRL, replacement halfback Mason Lino produced an assured performance in the absence of Shaun Johnson against North Queensland. Forced to bide his time in reserve grade since the final round of 2015, the 23-year-old Samoan international showed his willingness to take on the line in a sign the vacant five-eighth role could be his next season. Facing off against the reigning premiers, Lino will need to lift his performance if the Warriors are to maintain any aspirations of appearing in September, but with alongside several of his fellow NYC graduates an unlikely win may not be out of the question.
As one of the beneficiaries of Cronulla's much-publcised 2014 campaign, Fa'amanu Brown has struggled to cement a regular first grade position ever since. Brought into grade as a five-eighth, the 22-year-old Samoan representative will be hoping a move to Belmore in 2018 brings about the stability in first grade required to become a NRL playmaker. Gaining confidence in the top grade following Jayden Brailey's untimely injury, Brown will be hoping his form warrants retention in first grade leading into the finals, while also shaking off the injury woes that have hampered his career to this point.