Warriors v Dragons preview

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Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons Saturday 3:00pm at Central Coast Stadium

Early season battlers eye first points

Enduring one of the toughest seasons of any club in rugby league history, the New Zealand Warriors will be looking for much-needed respite when they host the St George Illawarra Dragons on Saturday afternoon.

Forced to relocate to Australia due to the global impacts of COVID-19, the New Zealand Warriors have so far struggled on the field in 2020 going down to Newcastle (0-20) and Canberra (6-20) in their opening two matches prior to the season being suspended.

Suffering a devastating injury toll with a number of specialist forwards unavailable for selection, coach Stephen Kearney has responded to the hand he has been dealt by naming Gerard Beale, Karl Lawton and Agnatius Paasi for their first appearances of the season, while elevating New Zealand international Kodi Nikorima into the halves at the expense of Chanel Harris-Tavita.

Granted conditional approval by the NRL to sign a rival middle forward to a short-term loan due to their injury toll and relocation to Australia, the Warriors have yet to finalise a deal despite being linked with Tigers duo Matthew Eisenhuth and Russell Packer.

Doing enough to win both their opening matches only to finish on the wrong side of the scoreboard against Wests Tigers (14-24) and Penrith (28-32), the St George Illawarra Dragons will be looking for consistency over the course of 80 minutes to get their first win.

Returning to the Central Coast for the first time in two decades, coach Paul McGregor will be hoping his side's historical dominance over the Warriors comes to the fore on Saturday afternoon after winning 21 of 29 previous clashes.

Welcoming captain Cameron McInnes, Tariq Sims, Korbin Sims, Mikaele Ravalawa and Euan Aitken back into the line-up, speedster Matt Dufty has retained his place at fullback following a dynamic display against the Panthers prior to season being suspended.

Joining the joint venture over the off-season with more than 500 first class games in experience, Trent Merrin and Issac Luke have been left out side in favour of young guns Josh Kerr and Tyrell Fuimaono.

Last meeting: Round 9 2019 - Warriors 26 Dragons 18

Who to watch: Tasked with leading the Warriors during the most turbulent period in the club's history, fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be determined to make his actions count on the field. Regarded as one of the finest number ones in the world as evidenced by his Dally M Player of the Year recognition two years ago, the 26-year-old shapes as the club's primary attacking threat through his dazzling footwork and involvement across the park. Averaging over 180 metres per game in his first two appearances this season, expect Tuivasa-Sheck to turn a half chance into a full-fledged opportunity if given an inch on Saturday afternoon.

Handed a lifeline by the joint venture after falling out of favour at Penrith, Tyrell Fuimaono will be aiming to establish himself as a regular first grader in 2020. Producing the finest performance of his young career prior to the season being suspended, the 24-year-old versatile forward will be eager to build upon that showing and give the Dragons a game-breaking spark off the bench. Earmarked as player with plenty to offer during his junior days, look for Fuimaono to make an impact on Saturday afternoon with the ball in hand.

The favourite: Boosted by the return of captain Cameron McInnes and the Sims' brothers, the Dragons are expected to prove too strong for the wounded Warriors.

My tip: Showing plenty of attacking potential in their first two performances back in March, the Dragons should scorch their vagrant opponents in a high-scoring affair. Dragons by 14.

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. Patrick Herbert 3. Peta Hiku 4. Gerard Beale 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Blake Green 10. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 9. Wayde Egan 13. Adam Blair 12. Tohu Harris 17. Eliesa Katoa 11. Isaiah Papali'i 14. Karl Lawton 15. King Vuniyayawa 16. Agnatius Paasi 22. Jack Murchie

1. Matthew Dufty 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Brayden Wiliame 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. Korbin Sims 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. James Graham 14. Josh Kerr 15. Blake Lawrie 16. Tyrell Fuimaono 17. Euan Aitken

Referees: Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski, Liam Kennedy; Video Referees: Steve Clark, Ben Galea;

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