Green Machine fires in Melbourne
4 hours ago | Josh Robertson
New halves to bring renewed fortune for both clubs
Experiencing a drastic reversal of fortune from this time last year, the New Zealand Warriors will be out to revive their season against the St George Illawarra Dragons in a crucial Magic Round clash.
Having started 2018 among the competition front-runners with six wins from their opening eight matches, coach Stephen Kearney will be demanding greater resilience from his players in the wake of last Sunday's costly 36-18 loss to Newcastle in order to make amends for their worst start to a season in six years.
Using more players than any other club so far this season, Kodi Nikorima will become the 27th member of the Warriors squad to feature in first grade after gaining an early release from Brisbane last week, while serving as a recognised replacement for Shaun Johnson following mixed results with Adam Keighran, Chanel Harris-Tavita and Hayze Perham over the first eight rounds.
Holding a less than stellar record at the redeveloped Suncorp Stadium with four wins from 12 appearances, the Warriors will be hoping to continue a rare winning streak over the joint venture after posting back-to-back wins for the first time last season.
In addition to Kodi Nikorima making his club debut in the halves, Nathaniel Roache has been preferred at hooker ahead of Issac Luke, while David Fusitua will return in place of Gerard Beale on the wing. With Adam Blair out suspended, Samoan duo Bunty Afoa and Ligi Sao will return as part of a calculated move to increase the impact provided off the bench.
Dropping to eighth after suffering losses over the past fortnight, the St George Illawarra Dragons will be hoping to maintain a dominant record over the Warriors having won 75% of clashes - their best strike rate against any current NRL team.
Squandering a 14-6 halftime lead to go down 32-18 against Parramatta last Sunday, coach Paul McGregor will be hoping recent form at Suncorp Stadium continues after overcoming a dismal run of ten straight losses at the venue to record wins in their past two visits.
Losing Corey Norman for at least a month with a fractured cheekbone, young playmaker Jai Field will make his first starting appearance for the Red V in the halves in the only change from the team beaten at Bankwest Stadium.
Last meeting: Round 21 2018 - Dragons 12 Warriors 18
Who to watch: Making the most of a train-and-trial deal after being told to pursue other avenues by the Dragons at the end of last season, Patrick Herbert will be out to make his former teammates pay on Saturday evening. Unable to get a look in at the joint venture after moving across from New Zealand rugby union as a teenager, the 22-year-old outside back has made a strong start to life in first grade after coming into the squad on ANZAC Day due to injuries. Hailing from Whakatane, the same town that produced Kiwi superstar Benji Marshall, Herbert may not possess the reputation of some of his peers, but having shown plenty of promise in limited appearances, expect the young centre to put up a strong case to retain his place in the starting side going forward.
Touted as a star of the future following a scintillating showing at the Auckland Nines in 2017, Jai Field will be hoping to capitalise upon the biggest break of his career on Saturday evening. Managing just 102 minutes of first grade across five appearances for the joint venture over the past two years, the 21-year-old playmaker will start for the first time with Corey Norman and Gareth Widdop both sidelined in a match set to have a major bearing on his future. Off-contract at season's end, Dufty will be sure to take a mile with his blistering speed if given an inch against the Warriors, as he strives to replicate the form that saw him represent the Junior Kangaroos and NSW Under-20's against men.
The favourite: Despite the shortcomings of the past fortnight and the absence of Corey Norman, the Dragons are expected to have too much class for the Warriors.
My tip: With both sides performing well below their best, look for the Warriors to reap the rewards of their inconsistency for at least a week. Warriors by 8.
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. David Fusitua 3. Peta Hiku 4. Patrick Herbert 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Blake Green 8. Agnatius Paasi 9. Nathaniel Roache 10. Leeson Ah Mau 11. Isaiah Papalii 12. Tohu Harris 13. Lachlan Burr 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Bunty Afoa 16. Ligi Sao 17. Karl Lawton
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Zac Lomax 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Jai Field 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Blake Lawrie 14. Jeremy Latimore 15. Euan Aitken 16. Jacob Host 17. Luciano Leilua
Referees: Adam Gee, Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials: Liam Nicholls, Drew Oultram; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;