Warriors versus Sea Eagles preview

25 09 2008

The big question heading into Saturday night’s Preliminary Final between the Manly Sea Eagles and the NZ Warriors is whether the fairy tale will continue? Can the Warriors continue their stunning run through the NRL playoffs and reach their second Grand Final?

In many ways they have a better team than that 2002 model. Of course that 2002 team had the single greatest Warrior ever, Stacey Jones and numerous other attacking weapons like Ali Lautiti and Clinton Toopi but their defence was ropey and teams knew that if they could stay with the Warriors until the 60th minute there was a chance they could win. The 2008 Warriors on the other hand have proved their toughness and defensive expertise over the past 12 weeks, winning 10 including the historic upset over the defending champion Melbourne Storm.

As the season has gone on the Warriors have become a team you want to put away early. You don’t want them within striking distance as their defence, led by Michael Luck and Simon Mannering, is brutal and in Manu Vatuvei, Brent Tate, Jerome Ropati and Wade MacKinnon they possess some lethal finishers. Add to this their little guys led by Nathan Fien and brilliantly accentuated by Lance Hohaia, and the Warriors are a fearsome opponent.

The Manly Sea Eagles are a classy opponent and possess Matt Orford, the best player in the NRL this past season. They will be tough to beat. But this Warriors team has the feeling of a team of destiny. The game will be close and I’m half hoping/half expecting a thrilling come from behind victory.

Warriors by 2


Warriors versus Storm Preview

12 09 2008

Yesterday I previewed the All Blacks versus Wallabies but there’s an equally momentous game on this weekend, the NRL playoffs with the New Zealand Warriors versus the Melbourne Storm. So here goes.  

Supporting the New Zealand Warriors over the years has been a lot like being a supporter of the Los Angeles Clippers or Atlanta Hawks. They’ve seemingly been perennial losers despite the fact that they’ve been blessed with outstanding talent. It’s one of the true league tragedies that Stacey Jones never won a title with the Warriors. They came close in 2002 but have never come close again.

This year the Warriors have squeaked into the finals though it never should have been close. Their two losses to the Rabbitohs (of all teams) meant they had to win in Parramatta for the first time since 1995. The fact that they did and ultimately did it easily suggests that they are far superior to their ranking of 8th.

We have a good forward pack starting as ever with Steven Price and Ruben Wiki. Wiki has come through his early season form slump and I thought last week he was inspirational. If this is to be his last game with the Warriors then he should be fired up.

Price is the best captain in the NRL. When he plays the Warriors are a much different team. Its no coincidence that when he missed midseason games due to Origin duty the Warriors slumped. They’ve won 8 out of their last 10 and Price has been instrumental in all of them.

Michael Luck and Simon Mannering are extremely effective at what they do which is tackle tackle tackle.

It’s in the backs where we will struggle against the Storm. We have two players of class: Manu Vatuvei and Brent Tate with our only other true star Wade MacKinnon suspended. Our halves are suspect, although Fien has played well of late. Losing Wade MacKinnon for spitting at an official hurts but it was his own fault. I hope he can mend his ways because a healthy MacKinnon is breathtaking to watch and transforms the Warriors into contenders. However I suspect that the thing that makes MacKinnon so special, his fiery nature, is also the thing that pushes him into confrontations. The Warriors have a handy backup in Hohaia but he’s no MacKinnon.

The Storm on the other hand are chock full of stars, the best of who is of course the incomparable Billy Slater. They are the number one team in the NRL for a reason and they are playing at home.

One day the Warriors will win the NRL title but it won’t be this year. The Storm are too good across the park. We beat them once this season but it won’t happen again. The Storm by 8

All Blacks versus Wallabies preview

11 09 2008

This weekend the All Blacks play the Wallabies in the climax to the Tri Nations in Brisbane. If the All Blacks win they claim the Tri Nations and retain the Bledisloe Cup. If the Wallabies win they win the Tri Nations and have a chance at reclaiming the Bledisloe in the Hong Kong test match.

On another much more personal level it’s Robbie Deans versus the man whose job he should have, Graham Henry. If Deans Wallabies win his supporters will be crowing that he should have been coach. Henry is looking to validate his appointment. I know for some people the clash of the coaches is all that matters, for me I just want to smash the Aussies.

My favourite moment in sport is the 43 – 6 drubbing we handed the Aussies back in 1996. We played perfect wet weather rugby, scratch that we played perfect rugby. It was the first ever Tri Nations game and signalled the domination we would have over the tournament. If we come anywhere close to that performance I will be happy. I doubt we will but I can dream right?

So what do I think is going to happen this weekend?

We’re superior at the set piece. If the referee allows them to play properly and not fall for the aussie tricks then we should pummel them in the scrums, the departing Greg Somerville in particular will be looking for a huge game. The All Black lineout this year has been a revelation and they should continue that form this weekend though it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Aussies match us there.

For the first time in a while our backline looks settled. In Dan Carter we have the world’s best back but the Aussies can almost match us with Matt Giteau. Stirling Mortlock at second five helps us. At centre Mortlock is a terror and I have nightmares of all the times he has torn us apart. At second five we have Ma’a Nonu and I suspect he’ll be relishing the clash. The one player who worries me is Sivivatu and I just wish his cousin Rokocoko was playing in his place. However on the bench we have Isaia Toeava and he’s been in fine form. I suspect if Sivivatu is off his game he’ll be pulled and Toeava will take over.

Ultimately the game is going to come down to the breakdown. The awesome Richie McCaw against the impressive (but-not-quite-McCaw) George Smith. Unfortunately for us the Aussies have the better supporting cast – Phil Waugh and Rocky Elsom somewhat shade Kaino and So’oialo. But the game isn’t all about the loosies and I have a feeling that the ferocity of Ali Williams, Andrew Hore and Brad Thorn will ultimately tell.

Whatever the case it should be a cracking game.

I’m picking the All Blacks by 11.