League: Warriors defence shows path to top-eight spot

By Peter Jessup

There was nothing hairy about the Warriors' 18-4 victory over the Cronulla Sharks, bar the facial stuff grown as a tribute to Ruben Wiki as his NRL career winds down.

Their defence was superb as they held the visitors out for 38 minutes of the first half and all of the second at Mt Smart on Saturday night, earning themselves a spot in the top eight.

But the Warriors will be overtaken by Wests Tigers if they win at Parramatta tonight.

In order to assure themselves of playoff games in September they need to keep winning. Victory over Cronulla improved their points differential to -81 but all the other sides level with them are in the positive, so the Warriors will likely miss out if spots are decided on points differential.

They are now eight from 10 at home and with the big scalps of the top three sides Melbourne, Manly and Cronulla - it's the away record that needs improvement, especially as any finals they contest will be in Australia.

Three wins from three - the Dragons in Wollongong next Sunday, the Panthers at Mt Smart the following week and the Eels at Parramatta to end - would get them to sixth and a chance to go to round two.

They are capable of that.

Hooker Ian Henderson and halfback Nathan Fien steered the team well on Saturday, the kicking game was better, they played at the right end in what were at times appalling conditions. Henderson suffered a shoulder injury but is expected to recover. Not available next week are Micheal Luck, shoulder, and Aidan Kirk, leg, but otherwise it's a fully fit squad.

Fullback Wade McKinnon was good again on Saturday and, better, he looks like he'll keep improving as his timing clicks. He was put on report for a shoulder charge that flattened Sharks hooker Isaac de Gois but should escape unscathed when the regular match review is done.

Rookie Ben Matulino was well involved and definitely looks the part.

The Warriors completed 29/40 sets, the Sharks 26/42, the failures caused by the greasy conditions and big defence. The Sharks are lauded as the NRL's best defensive unit but the Warriors beat them at their own game. "Defensively we're miles ahead of where we were at the start of the year," said coach Ivan Cleary. "That's come through hard work and a great attitude from the players and, I guess, tonight really showed that and won us the game."

The second half degenerated into repeat errors, nothing like the spectacle of the first. But it's clear the Warriors are learning how to win the tight, tough games. There were just a couple of criticisms - Brent Tate could look to pass more and Epalahame Lauaki's continuing tendency to gift penalties.

The Sharks were pressured, looked lost and lacked initiative in the Warriors' red zone on Saturday and no way do they look like top-two material. They would not be able to score sufficient points to beat the Storm or Eagles.

Their coach Ricky Stuart reckoned the standard of play from his men was reserve grade.

"Too many mistakes - fundamental mistakes, passing out of dummy half, dropped balls on collision, bad passing - just a really very poor game skill-wise."

The good news started early when the under-20s continued their winning form with a 35-6 demolition of their Sharks counterparts.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 21 Apr 2014 04:26:30 Processing Time: 1088ms