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Warriors v Dragons: Mannering starts against unbeaten Dragons

For five weeks the Warriors enchanted us with their free-wheeling nothing-to-lose approach. The Broncos brought them back to earth with last week's win in enemy territory and everybody's waiting to see if the honeymoon is over or if they are legitimate top eight contenders.

It's not as though the Warriors were bad against an injury-weakened Brisbane, but there was a faint whiff of complacency about their performance and they can't afford to take anyone lightly. Coach Stephen Kearney should have no trouble getting his side up for the unbeaten competition leaders.

There were a few rumblings after the Dragons scraped home against Souths in round five that a loss was just around the corner. Well it wasn't around the first corner, as the Dragons romped to a big win over crosstown rivals Cronulla, leaving them battered and bruised in the process.

Given their good record in Auckland over the years, it might not be around the next corner either.

Key match-up: This has all the makings of a game that will come down to how the halves influence their respective teams. Hard as it is to go past Shaun Johnson v Ben Hunt, the contest between classy five-eighths Blake Green and Gareth Widdop carries a touch more intrigue. They are similar players of a similar age and whoever is the most effective will impact heavily on the result.

Warriors v Dragons - Round 7

For the Warriors to win: Stick to the basics and don't get caught up in their opponents' game plan. The Warriors need to make an aggressive statement in the first 20 minutes and convince the unbeaten Dragons that they're in for their toughest game thus far. A world-class performance from Johnson also wouldn't hurt.

For the Dragons to win: Weathering an expected early storm will be paramount for the competition leaders. If their hard-working forwards contain their Warriors counterparts, Widdop and Hunt will provide ample scoring opportunities for the Dragons backs.

Warriors stat attack: The Warriors are the NRL's top team for offloads with 98 in six games, well ahead of second-best Manly (82). Winger David Fusitu’a has scored 10 tries in his past five games at Mt Smart Stadium.

Dragons stat attack: St George Illawarra seemingly have the wood on the Warriors, winning 13 of their past 14 meetings. The Dragons are the NRL's most prolific attacking team with an average of almost 33 points per game.

And another thing: Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop will play his 100th game for the club on Friday. The Englishman is having an outstanding season, leading the NRL in points, try assists, goals and line-break assists.

Prediction: Dragons by 13

Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons, 8pm NZT (6pm AEST) Friday at Mt Smart Stadium

Warriors: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), 2 David Fusitu'a, 3 Peta Hiku, 17 Anthony Gelling, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Blake Green, 20 Mason Lino, 8 Bunty Afoa, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Agnatius Paasi, 11 Simon Mannering, 12 Tohu Harris, 13 Adam Blair

Interchange: 14 Jazz Tevaga, 15 Sam Lisone, 16 Albert Vete, 21 Isaiah Papali'i

Shaun Johnson and Solomone Kata will miss the match against the Dragons through injury, with Mason Lino to start at halfback and Anthony Gelling in the centres. Simon Mannering starts in the back row for Leivaha Pulu (foot) with Albert Vete joining the bench. Bunty Afoa starts at prop for Sam Lisone (bench). Isaiah Papali'i was elevated to the bench an hour before kick-off, with Chris Satae and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad omitted.

Dragons: 1 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin

Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Hame Sele

As expected the Dragons are unchanged from their win over Cronulla. Mitchell Allgood and Blake Lawrie dropped off the bench 24 hours out from kick-off, while Jacob Host and Zac Lomax were omitted on Friday afternoon.

Head-to-head: Played 26; Dragons 21 wins; Warriors 5 wins

Matches at venue: Played 10; Dragons 6 wins; Warriors 4 wins

2017 results: Dragons won 26-12 at Jubilee Oval in round 4 and 30-14 at FMG Stadium Waikato

Points per game: Warriors 23.7; Dragons 32.3

Points conceded per game: Warriors 15.3; Dragons 13.3

Televised: Live on Fox League

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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