21 Jul 2023

Victory over Raiders would leave Warriors well placed for a run to finals

4:27 pm on 21 July 2023
Te Maire Martin of the Warriors.
North Queensland Cowboys v One New Zealand Warriors, NRL Premiership Rugby League match at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville, Australia on Saturday 18 March 2023. Photo: NRL Photos

Te Maire Martin in action for the Warriors against North Queensland Cowboys, in Townsville in March. Photo: NRL Photos

Opinion: Say it with me now: it's looking pretty good for the Warriors. That's about as hyped as you probably want to get with seven rounds left of the NRL 2023 regular season, but a win over the Raiders tonight will set them up nicely heading into their bye week.

They return to face the Titans (currently 12th), the Tigers (dead last), the Sea Eagles (11th) the Dragons (16th) and the Dolphins (13th).

Right now, coming off two big wins, all of those games feel winnable. If they do win all of them, that would put them fourth on the NRL ladder at the very least. That's rarified air for the Warriors, who have made the playoffs once since their grand final appearance in 2011, so right now a return to September football will be priority number one.

But before we get too carried away, because that is literally the whole gag about the Warriors' entire existence, let's have a look at some numbers. Obviously the fact that every team bar the Raiders is lower on the table than the Warriors is a good sign, and a win on Friday will put them fourth equal alongside the Canberra outfit.

But diving into the defensive stats shows what's made this team so resilient this year. The Warriors are giving up 18 points a game, the third stingiest in the competition. They're third in tries conceded, with three a game.

Run metres and line breaks conceded see them third as well, all of which has been the bedrock of their 11 wins so far in 2023. Talking to coach Andrew Webster each week brings up themes of pride in the side's defensive efforts more than its attack, but that hasn't been shabby either at 24 points a game. That's taken a lift in the last four weeks, with three of the four games resulting in 40-plus scores.

However, when the Warriors have buttoned off this season, they've paid for it. While they've only really been flogged twice - against the Roosters and Rabbitohs - only one defeat saw them actually in with a shot of winning when it came down to the wire. Countering that the most memorable win of the year, against the Sharks in Cronulla, saw them gun down a 26-6 deficit.

Webster reckons completion rates aren't as important as they once were, so the 79 percent rate they are travelling at is secondary to the high rate of possession. The last two wins that yielded a combined 100 points relied on 56 percent of the ball both times.

Really, it's simple. Hang on to the ball, make your tackles and take your opportunities. But that's easier said than done, ironically the two most disappointing losses the Warriors have had were at home in heavy rain. That's really the only head scratcher this season, you'd think cold and wet conditions in New Zealand would be difficult for the likes of the Roosters and Rabbitohs, but it definitely worked the other way around.

Player-wise, things have clicked into place. What's going right? Simply put, almost everything. The club has had arguably its most fruitful transfer period since they picked up Ruben Wiki and Steve Price at the same time, but it had a far more pragmatic approach.

Dylan Walker and Mitch Barnett have been superb in their first seasons at the club, while Shaun Johnson is in arguably the form of his life. Addin Fonua-Blake is as well, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has gone from being a questionable signing to the best finisher in the competition.

Dylan Walker in possession. Cronulla Sharks  v One NZ Warriors. NRL Rugby League, PointsBet Stadium., NSW, Australia, Sunday 2nd April 2023 Copyright Photo: David Neilson / www.photosport.nz

Dylan Walker has had a superb debut season for the Warriors, Jamie Wall writes. Photo: Photosport / David Neilson

The last game between the Warriors and Raiders was a statement win for Webster's side. They travelled to a hostile GIO Stadium and spoiled Jarrod Croker's 300th game, scoring a 34-14 win and that may well have proven that the Warriors are genuine finals contenders.

Webster has preached the gospel of only worrying about one game at a time hard and often this year. It is working well, but it would be a surprise if the Warriors weren't secretly looking at their very friendly run home and licking their lips.

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