NRL: Finals football arrives early for Warriors

By Michael Brown

Warriors are approaching Saturday's match against the Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium like a knockout game. Photo / Getty Images.
Warriors are approaching Saturday's match against the Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium like a knockout game. Photo / Getty Images.

Finals football has come to the Warriors two weeks early because the team are approaching Saturday's match against the Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium like a knockout game.

The Warriors have to beat Canberra and then the Dragons next weekend, and then hope other results go their way, to sneak into the top eight. Only two points separate seventh and 13th and only points differential sees the Warriors sit one place ahead of the Raiders in 11th.

The finals is where they want to finish and it's not a bad thing to embrace a do-or-die attitude but acknowledging that is a departure for coach Matt Elliott.

Last week ahead of the must-win game against the Titans he said it would be dangerous to get caught up in top-eight permutations because it was a distraction but it's hard to ignore when a season rests on a result and he was a lot more relaxed about it today.

"We are in knockout footy now,'' Elliott declared. ``We might as well be invigorated by that.

"Winning [is the key]. There's a recipe for doing that and we have to get that recipe right. It's good. We have to find a way.''

They will probably have to do it without centre Dane Nielsen, who is struggling with ankle and shin injuries. He lasted only 40 minutes against the Titans last week and Elliott rated him an ``unlikely'' starter.

It would see Jerome Ropati switch to left centre where he has played most of his career and Ngani Laumape would slot onto the right wing. Ropati added considerable stability to the right edge against the Titans with his organisational skills so the right edge can expect to be tested by Canberra.

The Raiders will come to Mt Smart equally desperate with their season on the line and less than two weeks after the sacking of David Furner as coach.

They will also be without troubled centre Blake Ferguson who is hoping to leave the club and who has been a distracting influence for teammates. He opted to stay in Sydney for the last two weeks rather than support his teammates and was reportedly involved in a disturbance at a taxi rank in Kings Cross on Sunday morning despite telling the club he was in Sydney for a family-related matter.

"We've never doubted he's a talent on the field,'' halfback Josh McCrone told reporters. "It's what is [happening] off the field that's really been bugging us.''

The Raiders have a good record at home, and earlier this season stitched together a 12-game winning streak in Canberra, but have struggled on the road. They are capable of it, however, having beaten the Storm in Melbourne 24-20 in May and have also won two of the last three games at Mt Smart Stadium.

"We have put a lot of pressure on ourselves because of what happened earlier in the season,'' winger Manu Vatuvei said. ``The last two games will be do-or-die for us. We will go out there to play our best and to play hard. It's not going to be easy but it's something we need to do.''

- APNZ

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