It can’t have been a fun week for Brian Mclennan’s boys, having to review their ordinary performance against the Sharks last weekend. But to show their character as a team, they can’t afford to wallow in it. And as luck would have it – they have to pick up for one of the toughest road trips of the year.
They travel to Townsville to take on the Cowboys on Saturday night and I can tell you that’s one hell of a place to try to pick up a victory as a visiting team.
The Warriors haven’t tasted success up there in their last seven visits. Couple that with the form of the Cowboys and the slight flicker the visitors have of finals footy and you have huge pressure on the boys to get in the zone.
That’s why it’s particularly great to see forward warhorse Michael Luck playing this weekend. His leadership and determination will help the side to no end.
On the downside, Ben Matalino could miss the rest of the season with a tear in his pectoral muscle. This is a huge blow for the Warriors as he’s been their best player all year by far.
I know both Luck and Jacob Lillyman will be up for big games against their old team and this could help the Warriors step up to the challenge.
On top of that, with James Maloney out for a few weeks, Carlos Tuimavave is handed his first start. And what a start it is - up against one of the game’s best in Johnathan Thurston. Carlos will certainly be thrown somewhat in the deep end but what a great way to show that he is up to NRL standard. I know Tuimavave has the goods to foot it at this level.
For me this game will be decided in the outside backs.
The Cowboys have Kane Linnet, Brent Tate, Ashley Graham and Antonio Winterstine out wide – all very dangerous players. Add Thurston and Matt Bowen to the mix and they have an incredibly experienced backline with over 900 games between them. Compare that to the 394 games the Warriors backs can count between them and you see the key difference. The heat comes on Tuimavave and Shaun Johnson to step up under pressure and this will be critical to the visitors end result.
The Warriors will take some solace in the fact they won their round 17 clash with the Cowboys 35 – 18. But the North Queensland team was without their four Origin reps in Thurston, Tate, James Tamou and Matthew Scott.
I desperately want the Warriors to step up and reward themselves and their supporters with a victory to show that they are better than last weekend’s result. I think they can and the game will be close for a period of time. Realistically though, the Cowboys have the experience, the home ground advantage and the desire to push their way into the top four so I would have to them to take this one out.
Every week from here on could be the last hope some clubs have to play finals footy. A loss ends their season or a victory pushes them closer to September football. Lets look at the other games in round 23.
Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles
This will be an awesome clash between two sides pushing for a place in this years GF. South Sydney have timed their run of form to perfection and Manly have started to show the resolve that won them last years comp.
I'm picking this to be a brutal encounter with the Manly side out muscling their opposition for the win.
Storm v Titans
The Gold Coast club knows that another loss will make it tough on them to make the playoffs so they will be desperate. The Storm ended a five match losing streak last weekend and I'm picking they will now play to their full potential and win this one.
Eels v Roosters
This is a big game for the Sydney City boys who showed great form taking down the Dragons last weekend. They can't afford to drop a game in their last four and should be too good for the Parramatta team.
Tigers v Dragons
This will be a game that entertains that's for sure. The Dragons have come out this week and said they need more spark and creativity. They have brought Jamie Soward back into the side from reserve grade to try to match the playmaking brilliance of the Tigers Benji Marshal. Marshal and the Wests boys were at their attacking best last weekend and - if they can step up their defence - will prove to have too much strike power and class for the Saint George side.
Panthers v Raiders
These two are in a race as the season counts down. The Raiders still hope to push into the top eight and the Penrith club is determined not to end the 2012 season with the wooden spoon. This will be a closer game than their standings on the ladder might suggest but I am just leaning towards Canberra here.
Bulldogs v Broncos
Any side that sits at the top of the table and, more importantly, has won ten consecutive matches deserves respect. There's no question that the Canterbury Bulldogs are the benchmark side. But the big question is; are the Broncos the real deal? We will find out for certain on Sunday. I think the potent Doggies will take this one but hope the Brisbane boys can step up to the plate.
Knights v Sharks
We all saw the Sharks tear apart the Warriors last weekend and I think they could be the side to watch over the next month. They have their big name players back and a win here will get them on the momentum that is so important at this time of the year. The Knights are a side that had some form on the board so this will be a very good contest. As I’ve previously said though, the Sharks are my dark-horse for the finals so I'm backing them here.