NRL: Next four matches to decide Warriors' fate

By Michael Brown

State of Origin will come to franchise's aid but a few wins needed to lift confidence

Warriors captain Simon Mannering has plenty to ponder as he seeks to lift his team up the NRL ladder. Photo / Getty Images
Warriors captain Simon Mannering has plenty to ponder as he seeks to lift his team up the NRL ladder. Photo / Getty Images

The view from the bottom of the NRL ladder is an unpleasant one for the Warriors. If they are going to make any impact in 2013, the next four weeks hold the key. To borrow a cliche, it's a season-defining period.

Punch in the numbers and the prediction is they'll need to win at least 11 of their remaining 17 games to make the top-eight playoffs - they have won only one in seven so far - but they have proved in the past it's not impossible.

Helping them cling to this belief is the fact that they have lost four games by 10 points or less and pushed some of the best teams in the competition. The State of Origin period is often good for the Warriors, with opposition teams shorn of some of their best players, but it's imperative they find some form before the first Origin match on June 5.

Match one

Gold Coast Titans (7th)Sunday, Mt Smart Stadium, 2pm

The skinny: The Titans made a good start to their season, winning three of their first four, including a 16-14 defeat of Manly, but injuries have affected them badly and last weekend against Newcastle they had to cope with just 14 players from the opening 10 minutes. Needless to say, it went badly and they went down 30-6. Gold Coast are in something of a rebuilding phase after the departure of Scott Prince to Brisbane but still have plenty of firepower with the likes of Luke Bailey, Jamal Idris, David Taylor, Greg Bird and Nate Myles. Their young halves combination of Albert Kelly and Aidan Sezer also has the potential to hurt the Warriors and Kelly has scored five tries in seven starts this season.

The history: The Warriors have won the past four games between the pair, and all four have been by at least 16 points. Before that, the Titans won six in a row, dating back to 2008.

The key: Gold Coast can play grinding football, which was evident in the first half against Newcastle before fatigue set in because of the injuries, and have a strong forward pack with Bailey, Bird, Myles, Taylor and Mark Minichiello.

Match two

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (13th)May 11, Westpac Stadium, 7.30pm

The skinny: The Bulldogs' path has been a similar one to the Warriors', albeit with 12 months' difference. The Warriors went into 2012 full of confidence after their grand final appearance the previous season but failed miserably and ended up 14th. There were also high hopes around the Bulldogs, after their trip to last year's grand final, but they have, so far, struggled with just two wins in their first seven games. One of those came in their last start, when they toppled a Sharks side clearly feeling the strain of the ASADA investigation into drug use 24-8, but they weren't helped by a horror draw that saw them play the Cowboys, Storm, Souths, Manly and Roosters in the first six weeks. The unavailability of the likes of Sam Kasiano (injury), James Graham and Krisnan Inu (both suspended) has hurt them but the ongoing saga around Ben Barba - last season's Dally M Medallist missed the opening month as he dealt with issues relating to gambling and alcohol and is now rumoured to be on his way out of the club - has been disruptive.

The history: The Warriors and Bulldogs traditionally have good battles, with both sides having won four of the past eight meetings. The Bulldogs won their only match last season, prevailing 32-18 at Mt Smart Stadium.

The key: The Bulldogs are starting to get a number of their key players back on the field with others to follow in coming weeks and if they manage to beat Wests Tigers tonight will have renewed confidence. The Bulldogs' strength is up the middle, so the Warriors will need to at least match them in this department.

Match three

Penrith Panthers (11th)May 18, Centrebet Stadium, 9.30pm

The skinny: Penrith are going through what many like to describe as a rebuilding phase (the Warriors have trotted that one out, too) and have won just two of their seven games this season. Those wins came in their first (32-10 at home to Canberra) and last (44-12 at home to Parramatta) games which sandwiched five straight defeats. Former Warriors coach Ivan Cleary has cleared the decks at Penrith, with eight newcomers in their top 25 this season and, together with boss Phil Gould, has been aggressive in the marketplace. They have already signed Brent Kite, Jamie Soward and Elijah Taylor for the 2014 season with others rumoured to be heading to west Sydney and they have plans to build a A$850 million sporting and leisure complex in the league heartland in the hope of turning themselves into one of the best league nurseries. It doesn't help them with their on-field fortunes this season and some of the issues they have had in the halves all season, with Lachlan Coote and Blake Austin injured and Luke Walsh punted to reserve grade because of poor form. The Panthers were very good against the Eels last weekend but most teams have been against Parramatta.

The history: The Warriors have won four of the past five games between the two sides and six of the past 10 (as well as a draw). They split the two games last season, with the away team winning on both occasions.

The key: Penrith's form has been ropey but they are entering a very difficult phase with the resurgent Roosters and relentless Storm in the next fortnight before they host the Warriors. Matt Elliott will hope Penrith lose both and they can then take advantage.

Match four

Newcastle Knights (5th)May 26, Mt Smart Stadium, 2pm

The skinny: It was only a matter of time before the Wayne Bennett revolution took effect at Newcastle and the Knights have responded with five wins from their first seven games. They have played well but, apart from Manly (a 32-0 defeat), haven't really measured themselves against the top sides, having so far avoided Melbourne, the Roosters and Souths. They are stacked with experience with the likes of Jarrod Mullen, Kurt Gidley, Danny Buderus and Willie Mason and have a bit of sparkle with Darius Boyd, James McManus, Timana Tahu and Akuila Uate and are also one of the most efficient teams in the competition, having completed 78 per cent of theirsets.

The history: The Warriors have a great recent record against Newcastle, having won eight of the past 10 between the two sides but the Knights won the only game between the pair last year (24-19) and a lot has changed at both outfits.

The key: You can't afford to make mistakes against the Knights. They have conceded just 91 points in seven games (32 of those came in one match) and teams who concede less than 20 points a game give themselves a very good chance of winning. The Warriors, on the other hand, have leaked 174 points in their seven.

- NZ Herald

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