Round 25: Warriors v Raiders preview
The final round focus turns to Auckland where the New Zealand Warriors will be hosting the high in confidence Canberra Raiders who will be looking to take a third consecutive top 8 scalp to finish the season.
The Warriors final home round game will be an emotional one with the Warriors both celebrating and farewelling veteran Simon Mannering who is playing his 300th game for the Warriors. The Warriors come into the final round sitting in eighth spot and could potentially finish as high as fifth with results going their way. The Warriors come into the game off the back of three wins from their past four matches with a last start win coming against the out of sorts Penrith Panthers at home. The Warriors came into last weekend's game off a shock loss to the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium.
The 2018 season has been a good one for the Warriors after being tipped pre-season to be the wooden spooners come this time of the season. The Warriors 2018 season has seen them score 14 wins this season which is double the number of wins throughout 2017. The Warriors season has been much more consistent than previous years with wins spread across the season rather than in clumps mid-season as they had done in previous years. The Warriors defence has been their biggest improvement of 2018 with over 100 points less conceded this season compared to 2017.
The Warriors will be without Blake Green once again after the five-eighth was a late withdrawal from last week's clash with Mason Lino named to start in the 6 jersey. The other change made by Stephen Kearney is that Gerard Beale has been named in jersey 17 replacing Leviaha Pulu who has been dropped to the reserves.
The 2018 season is another season of what could've been for the Canberra Raiders who have left their fans and coach Ricky Stuart frustrated after so many close losses before picking up wins against the Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs at the backend of the season. The Raiders pulled off a shock win a fortnight ago when they scrapped their way to a 2 point victory over the top of the table Roosters before a classy victory over the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The Raiders started 2018 with three losses by a combined margin of 5 points in games in which the Raiders lead within the final 10 minutes including the last clash with the Warriors in Round 3 where the Warriors scored 8 points in 3 minutes to take a one-point victory. The Raiders have lost 10 matches by less than 10 points this season which show's their competitiveness this season and had the Raiders managed to win half of those games they would be sat safely in the NRL top 4.
The Raiders will head into the game with the same team named as last week by Raiders coach Ricky Stuart who will be looking to get his side to finish the season with three wins over top 8 teams.
Prior to the clash earlier this season, the Raiders had won the previous four clashes between the two sides with two wins in New Zealand in that time. The games between the two sides have seen each team win games in stretches over recent years the last time a side was unable to score back to back wins against the other was 2011 when the Warriors beat the Raiders.
Who to watch: Shaun Johnson - The Warriors halfback turned on the style last week against the Panthers and he will be again a key part of the Warriors game this week and leading into the finals. The Raiders have been a good side for Shaun Johnson having scored 96 points in 11 games against the Raiders in his career. This season Johnson has notched 13 try assists which includes as well as 10 line break assists.
Josh Hodgson - The Raiders hooker will be an important player for the Raiders if they are going to take the win in New Zealand. Hodgson missed the start of the season after suffering injury during last year's World Cup. The Raiders number 9 acts as a third half for the Raiders and is a key part to the Raiders attacking momentum. At full fitness, Hodgson can cause issues to the best sides of the competition and he will be again an attacking threat.
The favourite: The New Zealand Warriors will be the favourites for the contest given their standing on the NRL ladder and their good form over recent weeks.
My tip: The Raiders will be high on confidence coming into the final round and will no doubt be up to take a third top 8 scalp to finish the season. The Warriors though will have more to play for and will be up for the clash and will want to finish the regular season on a high. The game won't see a finish like Round 3 but it will be a close one with the home side scraping home in the victory. Warriors by 6.