NRL: Stormy path for Warriors

By Michael Brown

Shaun Johnson of the Warriors celebrates with team mates after scoring the Warrior's opening try. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson of the Warriors celebrates with team mates after scoring the Warrior's opening try. Photo / Getty Images

If the Warriors make it to the NRL playoffs, they will deserve to be there with a difficult run-in to complete their regular season.

It starts with a visit from the defending champions Melbourne Storm on Sunday and ends with a trip to the Dragons, the only team the Warriors still have to play who are below them on the table. Four of their seven remaining matches are at Mt Smart, where they have lost only once this season (24-22 defeat to the Rabbitohs).

The Warriors remained in 11th despite their 24-14 win over the Wests Tigers on Friday night but it left them only one win outside the top eight. There is a log-jam of teams in the middle of the table, with only two points separating 5th and 11th.

Storm (3rd), Mt Smart

The two sides couldn't have had much different starts to the season (the Warriors lost eight of their first 10 and the Storm won their opening seven games) but the Warriors will actually go into this match as the form side.

Melbourne often suffer some speed wobbles during Origin and they have lost three of their last four. They will, however, be well rested having had the bye this weekend and will welcome back the Big Three.

Sharks (7th), Mt Smart

The Sharks have endured a difficult season, mostly off the field after becoming the focus of a drugs probe, but have managed to keep things together on it. They've done it around a staunch defence and they should have the likes of Paul Gallen, Beau Ryan and Wade Graham back for this match to provide influential five-eighth Todd Carney with more quality to work with. It should also give Warriors fans a close-up look at Jayson Bukuya before he joins next season.

Sea Eagles (4th), Bluetongue Stadium, Central Coast

Manly might be an ageing squad but they still manage to dine at the top table. They are a very good side but it's difficult to see them really challenging the top three this season. The Warriors have historically struggled against the Sea Eagles and their dramatic 18-16 win at Mt Smart earlier this season was their first in seven games and only second in the last 10 meetings between the two sides.

Panthers (9th), Mt Smart

Ivan Cleary's rebuilding job at the Panthers is starting to bring results and it has seen a team who earlier this season were favourites for the wooden spoon turn into playoffs contenders. Cleary is still working on getting the playing roster he wants, and that has seen a handful of Warriors head to west Sydney, but he has managed to get a handful of promising youngsters like James Roberts, Dean Whare and Matthew Moylan to play the way he wants.

Titans (10th), Gold Coast

Gold Coast have been going south over recent weeks and the Warriors will hope their season is effectively over by the time they head to Skilled Park. The Titans have a huge forward pack and young backs and, at their best, are difficult to stop. But they will be missing powerful centre Jamal Idris, who is out for the season after breaking his ankle.

Raiders (8th), Mt Smart

The Raiders are almost unbeatable in Canberra - Saturday's win over the Eels was their 12th in a row at home - but away from the Australian capital is a different story and it's why they are only on the cusp of the eight. They have a big pack with the likes of David Shillington and Josh Papalii and a talented backline led by the classy Terry Campese but the Warriors will hope their away woes continue.

Dragons (15th) Wollongong

The Dragons have fallen heavily since Wayne Bennett turned them into minor premiers in 2010 and only the awful Eels have been worse than them this season. In saying that, they have a terrific record against the Warriors, having won 15 of the 19 games between the two sides, and in fullback Josh Dugan a player who can hurt any team.

- APNZ

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