Why Warriors coach Stephen Kearney may be tempted to start Issac Luke

Author
NZ Herald Staff,
Section
League,
Publish Date
Thursday, 28 June 2018, 2:45PM
Issac Luke looms as crucial to the Warriors' hopes in tomorrow night's NRL clash against Cronulla. Photo/ Getty
Issac Luke looms as crucial to the Warriors' hopes in tomorrow night's NRL clash against Cronulla. Photo/ Getty

The availability of Kiwis hooker Issac Luke looms as crucial to the Warriors' hopes in tomorrow night's NRL clash against Cronulla at Mt Smart Stadium.

Coach Stephen Kearney will tonight cut four players from the extended 23-man squad named on Tuesday, with the Warriors sweating on the availability of their Kiwi international trio - Luke, Peta Hiku, and Ken Maumalo – and the fitness of outside back pair Solomone Kata and David Fusitu'a.

If Fusitu'a and Kata are cleared to return from respective ankle injuries, that may spare Kearney the need to play Hiku and Maumalo, although back-up centre Anthony Gelling has also been struggling to overcome an ankle injury suffered in his last reserve grade outing against Newcastle on June 17.

However, such is Luke's importance to the team, Kearney may be tempted to thrust him into the dummyhalf role in place of versatile back-up No 9 Karl Lawton – who can also fill in at centre - as he did after Kata departed in the Warriors' 23-16 win over the Cowboys in Townsville last fortnight.

Luke's experience, creativity and organising skills simply cannot be replaced and his presence eases the pressure on playmakers Shaun Johnson and Blake Green while offering the side another kicking option.

In short, the Warriors are a much better side with Luke in their line-up, and they will need to be at their best if they are to overcome a formidable Sharks side and post a third straight victory.

After getting through a patchy run of form that included three home defeats to the Broncos, Roosters and Rabbitohs, Green says it's imperative the fourth-ranked Warriors maintain their consistency and reward their loyal supporters with a strong showing against the seventh-placed Sharks.

"We finally cracked it and won two games on the bounce and we haven't played really well the last couple of times we've been at home, so it's a really good chance for us to rectify that and give our fans something to cheer about," said Green.

Blake Green. Photo / Photosport
Blake Green. Photo / Photosport

The Warriors know they need to stand up physically after being beaten-up and out-enthused in each of their home defeats, and are preparing for another rugged encounter against a hungry Sharks outfit looking to bounce back from their round 15 loss to Brisbane.

The visitors are bolstered by the midweek acquisition of former Bulldogs front-rower Aaron Woods, who joins a powerful forward rotation also boasting Tongan wrecking ball Andrew Fifita, victorious New South Wales State of Origin debutant Matt Prior, and veteran leader Paul Gallen.

"They've got experience and a pretty handy forward pack," said Kearney.

"They've got some strike in (Matt) Moylan and Valentine (Holmes), and with Chad (Townsend) they've got a halfback that likes to control and put them in good positions, so they're a good footy team.

"They know what it's all about, they've been there before, so we have a big challenge on our hands."

With 10 games remaining in the regular season, Green admits the Warriors need to perform well in the coming weeks in four challenging games against top eight sides. After facing Cronulla, the Warriors are away to Penrith (third) and Brisbane (eighth), before hosting the Storm (fifth) back in Auckland on July 22.

"You can't just look at the 10 games, you've got to break them up into little two or three week blocks and have an internal focus on what you want to get better at, or the style of play you really want to dive into for those couple of weeks," said Green.

"For the next couple of weeks in particular we've got an idea on what we need to work on to get better at and a couple of things we need to keep doing.

"Hopefully if we can get them right it will give us a good performance on Friday."

Warriors v Sharks at Mt Smart Stadium, Friday, 8pm

Warriors:

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. David Fusitu'a 3. Anthony Gelling 4. Solomone Kata 5. Gerard Beale 6. Blake Green 7. Shaun Johnson 8. James Gavet 9. Karl Lawton 10. Agnatius Paasi 11. Isaiah Papalii 12. Tohu Harris 13. Simon Mannering

Interchange: 14. Sam Cook 15. Chris Satae 16.Bunty Afoa 17. Jazz Tevaga 18. Blake Ayshford 21. Sam Lisone 22. Albert Vete 23. Peta Hiku 24. Issac Luke 25. Ken Maumalo

Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sione Katoa 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Edrick Lee 6. Matt Moylan 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Scott Sorensen 13. Paul Gallen

Interchange: 14. Joseph Paulo 15. James Segeyaro 16. Aaron Woods 17. Jayson Bukuya 18. Aaron Gray 19. Ava Seumanufagai 20. Sosaia Feki 21. Braeden Uele 22. Kurt Dillon 23. Kyle Flanagan

Referees: Adam Gee, Chris Butler

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