The Warriors promised so much during the season last year, flirting with a top four finish before having to settle for eighth spot.
They were knocked out in the first week of the finals and lost key players in the off-season, but the feeling in the club is one of optimism.
The Warriors were impressive in a trial win over the Tigers and coach Stephen Kearney will be banking on a similarly wholehearted effort against the Bulldogs.
The Doggies were one of three teams to lose 16 of 24 games last season and were playing catch-up all year after a bad opening month.
Coach Dean Pay will be hoping for a much more promising start in 2019.
Warriors: The Warriors will start 1-17. Debutant Adam Keighran replaces Shaun Johnson in the halves, while Lachlan Burr starts at lock with Isaiah Papali'i stood down by the club for one match. Nathaniel Roache replaces the injured Issac Luke (shoulder) at hooker. Gerard Beale and Liligiifo Sao were omitted an hour before kick-off, while Karl Lawton and Chanel Harris-Tavita were dropped from the extended bench on Friday.
Bulldogs: The Dogs are also 1-17. Will Hopoate retains the fullback spot with recruit Christian Crichton starting on the wing and Dylan Napa replacing David Klemmer in the front row. Rhyse Martin has dropped out of the side with Josh Jackson and Raymond Faitala-Mariner in the second row and former Panther Corey Harawira-Naera joining the bench. Nick Meaney and Chris Smith were cut an hour prior to kick-off, while Jack Cogger was omitted on Friday night.
Strange as it may seem, the Bulldogs have a potential edge in the halves with Kieran Foran and Lachlan Lewis boasting more time on the field together than Blake Green and Adam Keighran. Former Wyong Roos playmaker Keighran acquitted himself well in the pre-season but Green will have to shoulder plenty of responsibility until Keighran adjusts to the weekly grind of the NRL.
For the Warriors to win
After years of simply trying to out-score opponents, the Warriors knuckled down defensively last year and were rewarded with a finals berth. Defence remains a big focus for Kearney and he will be asking for 80 minutes of concentration on Saturday.
For the Bulldogs to win
They bowed out of finals contention well before the end of the season but the Doggies never threw in the towel and deservedly claimed a few scalps toward the end of the season. That modest late-season success should've built confidence among the players and they need the same sort of committed effort against the Warriors.
And another thing
Not only did the Warriors lose start halfback Shaun Johnson to the Sharks, his very capable understudy Mason Lino joined the Knights, leaving the club thin on depth and experience at a crucial position. If Green is sidelined for an extended period, the Warriors might struggle.
Brett Kimmorley says ...
There is a lot of pressure on Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to repeat his form from last year. Shaun Johnson isn't there and it probably allows the defence to see where Roger is and then go and stand an extra defender in front of him. As for the Bulldogs, as much as they were poor on the ladder last year they weren't that poor in results. Kieran Foran and Lachlan Lewis will be dynamic in the halves this year. I can see the Dogs causing an upset here.
Bulldogs by 2
Warriors Stat Attack
Winger David Fusitu'a had a wonderful strike rate last season, scoring 23 tries in 23 games. Ken Maumalo wasn't anywhere near as proficient, finishing the season with five tries in 23 matches. Fusitu'a and Maumalo scored two tries apiece in the trial win over the Tigers a fortnight ago.
Bulldogs Stat Attack
The Dogs are keeping the faith in Keiran Foran after a tough few seasons. Still only 28, Foran appeared in 12 games last year and had one try, a try assist and averaged 61.7 running metres per game.
Head to head in the NRL era (since 1998)
- Played: 33; Bulldogs 18 wins, Warriors 13 wins, 2 draws
- Latest result: Bulldogs beat Warriors 27-26 in round 23, 2018
- At this venue: Warriors 58% wins, Bulldogs 43% wins