Warriors look shaky against cowboys after slow start
THE New Zealand Warriors, touted as dark horses to threaten for the 2014 NRL premiership, could be looking at a long, lonely season if glamour halfback Shaun Johnson and expensive English recruit Sam Tomkins don't find something special against North Queensland in Townsville tonight.
A 0-3 start for coach Matt Elliott could be a bridge too far given the Warriors' poor road record and poor start to the season.
Johnson has been a major disappointment without last season's halves partner, Thomas Leuluai, who has yet to play since his World Cup campaign was wrecked by a groin injury.
And English superstar Tomkins is finding it more difficult than he expected against the stronger, more disciplined NRL defensive lines than his try-scoring picnics in Super League.
The Warriors forwards' Sam Rapira, Ben Matulino, Jayson Bukuya and Simon Mannering must lay a platform to give Johnson and Chad Townsend some space to operate, and also respect the football, unlike they did in the second half last weakened when they capitulated against the Dragons.
If the New Zealanders don't muscle up against a Cowboys pack rippling with go forward and edge power, their season is going to look a little sick at the end of 80 minutes.
The Cowboys have mercurial No.6 Johnathan Thurston in outstanding form, and with young forward Tariq Sims added to the back-row alongside another giant in Jason Taumalolo, who has busted 13 tackles already this season, the Warriors edge defence will need to be a lot better than it has been in the first two games.
The great Stacey Jones was captain when the Warriors last won in Townsville in 2002, and forward Jacob Lillyman, who returns home, was still at high school.
COWBOYS V WARRIORS
1300SMILES Stadium, 8pm (AEST)
Also: Panthers v Bulldogs, 3.30pm Sharks v Dragons, 6pm.