NRL 2021: NZ Warriors need selection consistency with playoff hopes on line

By their own admission, it's crunch time for NZ Warriors.

"The reality is, we can't slip up, we can't afford to lose many more games," insists barnstorming prop Bunty Afoa. 

And with the competition finely poised, he's right. Several teams are in the running to nab a space in the top eight, including the Warriors. 

What makes this time of the season so exciting for fans is they face three of their closest rivals in the next three rounds, starting tonight against Newcastle Knights, who are two points behind the boys from Mt Smart. 

Newcastle edged the Warriors 20-16 in round two and coach Nathan Brown may feel his side should have won that one, as they were arguably the better team, just slow out the blocks. 

The Knights are there for the taking tonight too. 

No Kayln Ponga, prop David Klemmer is coming off the bench, as he returns from injury, while Bradman Best is also out. 

When they fire up and play without fear, we've seen the Warriors can challenge anyone in the competition. 

"It took until the last 20 minutes [against the Storm] for us to start throwing the ball around and we scored three tries in the end," says forward Bailey Sironen, who finished the game in the halves, after Chanel Harris-Tavita's pec injury.

"The positive is we know we have it in us. We have been completing [sets] pretty decently, but where we finish our sets is another thing we need to work on.

"We need to make it harder for teams to come out of their end." 

Before their loss  to the Storm, assistant coach Justin Morgan said that belief was key to the way they play and particularly how they delt with losing momentum during games.

The belief they can win, play well and go out and express themselves - that’s when they're at their best. 

Consistency will also be key to the rest of the season.

NRL 2021: NZ Warriors need selection consistency with playoff hopes on line

They've been forced to make changes again this week, with Harris-Tavita likely out for 12 weeks and hooker Wayde Egan suffering nasty concussion last week. That makes their clash with the Knights even more important. 

A good win this week would give the coaches confidence they can pick the same side again and the team confidence they can win without key players. 

"It's been a little bit difficult, so where we can over the next while, we'll certainly be looking to get some continuity in our selections," Morgan says. "It feels like, the past couple of months, we've been trying to find 17 fit players.

"Teams only get better when they practice and play together for longer periods of time. This year, Euan [Aitken] hass played on the left and the right, we’ve had different wingers." 

Sean O'Sullivan comes back into the halves, after getting game time with Redcliffe Dolphins. With Harris-Tavita out, plenty of responsibility falls to him. That said, he proved more than capable of handling himself in the few games he played earlier in the season. 

Centre Aitken looks better by the week after his return from injury and prop Addin Fonua-Blake is bound to be the same. 

So have faith, Warriors fans. Sit back and enjoy what could prove to be the death or the resurrection of their season.

They can afford another defeat or two this year - just, please, not tonight.

Join us at 5pm Saturday for live updates of the Warriors v Newcastle Knights NRL clash