Warriors now facing an all too familiar scenario
The Warriors’ annual mid-season revival is officially under way. Now for the hard part – keeping it up.
Friday night’s hard-fought win over the Bulldogs at Mt Smart was the side’s third from their last four games to leave them on the cusp of the top eight on 16 points.
We have all seen this story play out before; an inconsistent start to the season followed by a strong run of results during the State of Origin period only to crash and burn with the playoffs in sight.
It remains to be seen if that pattern continue but one thing is for sure, it only get tougher from here on in.
The positive sign, though, is that players are well aware they are still some way off from where they need to be.
‘‘We’ve just got to string consistent performances together,’’ veteran backrower Simon Mannering said.
‘‘I don’t think we’re there yet, we’re heading in the right direction but there’s still so many things we can be better on.
‘‘When it gets later on in the competition teams get a lot more desperate for the two points. It gets harder and harder and you have to be better for it.’’
Indeed, the Warriors face a big step up next week when they make the long trip to Perth to play the fifth-placed Sea Eagles.
The Warriors are 0-8 in the Western Australian capital but with a second bye the following week, should they somehow manage to break that hoodoo they will head into the final third of the season well placed to snap their finals drought.
The team can take plenty from the performance against the Bulldogs.
Minus Kieran Foran and Solomone Kata and with Issac Luke forced off in the 33rd minute due to a suspected dislocated shoulder, the Warriors produced a composed display before holding their nerve in the face of a late Canterbury resurgence.
One of the more pleasing aspects for coach Stephen Kearney was their ability to stick to the game plan, constantly turning the big Bulldogs pack around in the greasy conditions courtesy of a brilliant kicking display from Shaun Johnson and an equally strong chase.
With Foran out, Johnson needed to step will will up. There was nothing flashy from the halfback but, apart from a couple of poor options in the red zone, he controlled the game well and made the smart decision to kick a field goal with 10 minutes left to kill the Bulldogs’ momentum.
The forwards also continued their gradual improvement, more than holding their own against a formidable Bulldogs pack.
Mannering was immense as usual, quietly racking up 60 tackles and running for 155m and together with James Gavet, who returned from injury to produce another barnstorming display, led the way for the rest to follow.
‘‘I thought he really lifted us, especially with his defence he was really physical and forced a couple of errors,’’ Mannering said of Gavet.
‘‘He was outstanding as were a number of others. It was a real team effort, everyone It gets harder and harder and you have to be better for it. did their job and at the end of the day that’s what gets wins.’’
The one major downside was the injury to Luke, who had hit a purple patch of form in recent weeks.
While the Kiwi hooker’s shoulder will be monitored throughout the week, Kearney said he had good range of movement in the joint immediately after the game. Although with the bonus of the bye following the Manly clash, it is hard to see him making the trip to Perth.
Nathaniel Roache delivered a vital contribution in Luke’s absence, thriving with the extra time on the field after averaging less than 10 minutes per game in his eight previous appearances.
Kearney has options at hooker in the form of Jazz Tevaga and mid-season signing Manaia Cherrington, but Mannering said Roache was more than capable of playing 80 minutes if required.
‘‘He’s a confident kid and when he gets a chance to run he backs himself so he could start a game and definitely finish it.’’
The Warriors celebrate a Ken Maumalo try against the Bulldogs on Friday night.