After suffering narrow back to back losses, the Raiders travel to New Zealand to take on the Warriors at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth on Saturday.
The Raiders are currently sitting in 9th place on the ladder, one point above the 13th placed Warriors. With both sides producing inconsistent performances so far this season, Saturday looms as a crucial test for each team to make their mark and put pressure on the top eight sides.
A frustrated Jarrod Croker rued the number of errors the team made against the Dragons last week.
“I thought we played okay against the Dragons, just too many errors in the first half left us playing catch-up," said Croker.
"We defended quite well but at the end of the day, we had to do too much of it. More possession will be nice on Saturday.”
The Raiders will be part of history on Saturday, as it will be the first NRL game to take place at Yarrow Stadium, which is located a bit over a four hour car ride south of Auckland. Despite struggling to locate New Plymouth on a map, the captain was confident about the team's chances.
“We enjoy playing in rural locations. We played in Albury last year and won, we played pretty well in Darwin and we won in Cairns. We’ve been around everywhere and we enjoy each other’s company. It brings us that little bit closer around game time.”
One player who is looking forward to the chance to play in New Zealand is Joe Tapine. The young forward who grew up in Wellington is relishing the challenge of playing the Warriors in front of his family.
“They’ve got a big squad as well - it’s going to be physical. I’m looking forward to the game – I always look forward to the New Zealand game – and I’m just excited to go back home really,” said Tapine.
Ricky Stuart has made one change to the side that lost the Dragons last Thursday. Jeff Lima returns from injury and takes his place on the bench while Luke Bateman moves to lock for the injured Shaun Fensom. Sam Williams and Frank-Paul Nuuausala travel with the side as part of an extended bench.
Andrew McFadden has made plenty of changes to the side that lost to Penrith. Former captain, Simon Mannering, returns at lock while a suspension to Solomone Kata sees Matt Allwood take his place in the centres. Issac Luke is restored to the starting lineup and Jazz Tevaga is demoted to the bench. Ben Matulino is named to start in a direct swap for James Gavet, who is on the bench. Sam Lisone is named on the bench instead of Charlie Gubb.
Luke Bateman v Simon Mannering
At only 21-years-of-age Bateman has an opportunity to start against the Warriors due to a shoulder injury to Shaun Fensom. Despite all of his NRL appearances coming from the bench so far this season, Bateman has displayed his work rate averaging 22 tackles per game this year.
He may not be their captain anymore but there is no doubt that Mannering is an inspiration to his team. Although Mannering has missed the last two rounds due to a severe mouth injury, he has still made more tackles than any other Warriors player this season with 344 tackles.
Aidan Sezer v Shaun Johnson
Sezer and Johnson are two halfbacks who are capable of anything on their day. In the last game before Laurie Daley announces his NSW State of Origin squad, Sezer will be hoping to impress the Raiders legend with a good performance against the Warriors and New Zealand stalwart.
Although Johnson hasn’t been consistent this season, the dangerous halfback has still scored five tries and assisted another eight. His kicking and running game is one of the best in the competition when he is on form and will be sure to test the Raiders out on Saturday.
Joey Leilua v Blake Ayshford
Leilua has been one of the best players in the NRL of late. The centre leads the competition for offloads with 30, and has set up four tries so far this season. His combination with Rapana and Whitehead has definitely been one of the highlights for the club this season.
Since moving to the Warriors from the Sharks, Ayshford has been playing plenty of first-grade football. Having scored five tries already this season, the centre has worked hard in defence averaging over 16 tackles a game.
The Raiders and Warriors have played each other on 34 occasions with the sides sharing the spoils with 17 wins each.
Saturday will mark the first meeting between the sides at Yarrow Stadium.
The Warriors have had the better results over the last three encounters:
1. Warriors defeated Raiders 30-8 Mt Smart Stadium, Round 16 2015
2. Warriors defeated Raiders 18-6 GIO Stadium, Round 2 2015
3. Warriors defeated Raiders 54-18 GIO Stadium, Round 21 2014
HE SAID IT
Elliot Whitehead: “I don’t think we are low on confidence, we just have been missing out and not taking [our] …opportunities to win the game.”
CLICK HERE for the full interview with Whitehead.
Joseph Tapine: “I always look forward to games like this. Going back to NZ, I always try and make the team. I have family up there so I’m looking forward to it.”
CLICK HERE to read about Tapine’s homecoming.
Jarrod Croker: “The boys tend to go pretty well when we get away and get away from it all. We are fairly well in the middle of nowhere”
The match kicks off at 5.30pm AEST (7.30pm NZ) on Saturday. Live updates from the game will be available on the Raiders Twitter. The match is also broadcast on Fox Sports Channel 501.