NRL: Warriors' daunting assignment

By Steve Deane

Manu Vatuvei. Photo / Getty Images
Manu Vatuvei. Photo / Getty Images

One year ago today, a struggling Warriors team wobbled into Melbourne to take on the eventual minor premiers in what has become an annual Anzac Day meeting.

As usual, the Storm were sitting pretty at the top of the ladder with five wins from their six matches. Again the Warriors had made a slow start to the season. Having lost their first three matches, the Warriors had recovered partially to 2-4. However, the noose was still being measured up for then-coach Ivan Cleary's neck. Form turned out to mean little in that contest, with the Warriors turning in a towering second-half defensive display to pull off a stunning 18-14 victory which sparked a five-match winning run that would send them hurtling up the NRL ladder.

What new coach Brian McClennan might give for such a season-reviving result in Melbourne tonight.

His side is in slightly better shape at 3-4, but the nature of heavy defeats by the Raiders and Roosters has seen him placed under considerable pressure just seven matches into his tenure.

If anything, a date with a Storm side that is yet to taste defeat this season appears an even more daunting assignment than it was 12 months ago.

The Storm have been purring this season. They've scored the most points in the competition by a distance, and have conceded the fewest. Their points differential stands at a whopping +125, while a Warriors team that has been potent on attack but defensively frail stands at an even 0.

All signs point to a comfortable Storm win tonight, however the Warriors have a happy knack of upsetting the competition's benchmark side. They did so in memorable fashion to qualify for the grand final last year, and in doing so maintained an undefeated record in Melbourne's swanky new stadium.

McClennan hasn't shown his troops footage of that 2011 triumph, preferring to concentrate on what both sides have done this season. The lessons from last year were pretty clear, however, McClennan said.

"We have spoken about what has worked against Melbourne in the past. There is no rocket science there. It is pretty much what worked against Souths last week too. Number one is holding the ball. That has been our Achilles' heel all season - impatience.

"When we hold the ball and get to the end of our sets, we build pressure and off the back of that we become harder to tackle and we start looking like a decent footy team."

He conceded he wasn't certain which Warriors side would turn up - the flighty bunch that fumbled their way into trouble against the Raiders and Roosters, or the altogether more determined side that thrashed the Rabbitohs. But he expected that facing the Storm's bevy of superstars would bring out the best in his players.

"The players get excited by the challenge of Melbourne. It raises your game, so I would think we'll have a pretty committed effort from everybody."

Both sides have four players backing up from Friday night's Anzac Test. All have been named to play, however they have Glen Fisiiahi and Pita Godinet in Melbourne as cover for Manu Vatuvei (ankle) and Shaun Johnson (shoulder).

Both came through yesterday's final training session and are expected to play, however a decision on Johnson will be left until closer to kick-off.

Kevin Locke returns at fullback after a three-match absence with a leg cork, while Jerome Ropati misses out with a hamstring strain.

WARRIORS
AAMI Park, 9pm, tonight

Kevin Locke
Bill Tupou
Ben Henry
Krisnan Inu
Manu Vatuvei
James Maloney
Shaun Johnson
Sione Lousi
Nathan Friend
Ben Matulino
Feleti Mateo
S. Mannering (c)
Elijah Taylor

Warriors: Russell Packer, Ukuma Ta'ai, Lewis Brown, Sam Rapira, Pita Godinet, Glen Fisiiahi

STORM

Billy Slater
Matt Duffie
Dane Nielsen
Will Chambers
Justin O'Neill
Gareth Widdop
Cooper Cronk
Jesse Bromwich
Cameron Smith (c)
Bryan Norrie
Kevin Proctor
Ryan Hoffman
Todd Lowrie

Storm: Ryan Hinchcliffe, Rory Kostjasyn, Siosaia Vave, Jason Ryles, Anthony Quinn

- NZ Herald

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