League: Time is ripe to seize the day

By Michael Brown

The NRL season might be only seven rounds old but the next five games loom as season-defining for the Warriors.

A handful of wins will turn their season around and give the club a much-needed shot of confidence. More losses could prove terminal for their top-eight chances in 2008.

They might have turned around a six-game losing streak to rocket home in fourth last season but they did it with an almost fully-fit squad, most notably including Wade McKinnon and Steve Price.

The Warriors have had one of the hardest starts to 2008 of any team. Road trips don't come much tougher than the Storm, Sea Eagles, Cowboys and Titans and they didn't help their cause by producing some of their worst football of the past three seasons.

They are now, however, entering a friendlier run of games which could help them find some momentum. While each of these games will be difficult, they are, in theory, easier than what came before.

After today's home match with the Raiders, they then have the bye before tackling the Panthers (A), Roosters (H), Knights (A) and Rabbitohs (H).

"I think these games are very important for every team in the comp," Warriors centre Brent Tate said, "because most teams start off pretty well but are then faced with the grind of the week-in and week-out of the season.

"So the next cluster of games is usually a pretty important time of the year because how many wins and losses you have sets you up for the back end of the year."

Of course, the Warriors had an indifferent first half of last season before finishing strongly but their form in the early stages of this season is more worrying.

They had conceded more points even than the bottom-placed Rabbitohs before this weekend and have looked short of confidence and cohesion, particularly away from home.

Their line speed has been too slow, they are struggling to get a roll-on through the forwards which has put pressure on their halves, their defensive reads have been off and missed tackle count too high.

Even during their six-game losing streak last year, they played better and, with the exception of results against the Eels (30-6) and Bulldogs (40-20 when Michael Crockett was sent off in the opening minutes), their defeats were close ones.

Coach Ivan Cleary hasn't pulled out the six-game losing streak pep talk yet but it's never far from the surface.

"Having been through that and come out the other side, it's a good experience to go through," he said. "I think we were actually more consistent through that period even though we were losing games.

"This year we haven't been consistent and that's what I'm looking for. Having played against some really good teams and played well, we have fallen a fair way behind.

"But it's so early in the year. There's only a quarter of the season gone so if we can get our act together a bit more and be more consistent, we will be competitive. Maybe these games are a good chance to get some wins."

A win today would help lift the gloom and apprehension around Mt Smart Stadium. Not only have they played poorly away from home this season, they have also been afflicted by injuries to key players.

Next weekend's bye will provide some welcome relief with their mounting injury toll.

Price (hamstring, 4 weeks) and Manu Vatuvei (broken leg, 6 weeks) are not expected soon and McKinnon (knee) is unlikely to be seen again this season but the news is better on Ruben Wiki (hand, 2 weeks), Jerome Ropati (ankle, 2 weeks), Patrick Ah Van (neck, 1 week), Sonny Fai (shoulder, 2 weeks), Aidan Kirk (hamstring, 2 weeks) and Herman Retzlaff (hand, 2 weeks).

- Herald on Sunday

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