NRL: Warriors need to seal playoff hopes early

By Steve Deane

Feleti Mateo takes the ball to the line in Friday's victory over the Bulldogs. Photo / Getty Images
Feleti Mateo takes the ball to the line in Friday's victory over the Bulldogs. Photo / Getty Images

Friday night's convincing victory over the Bulldogs has moved the Warriors within spitting distance of the NRL play-offs but, with their regular season to close with a rugged final month, the Warriors will want to seal the deal over the next fortnight.

Sunday's trip to face the erratic Rabbitohs in Sydney followed by a clash with the lowly Raiders eight days later in Auckland appear the least daunting of the club's seven remaining matches.

After those two encounters, three of their final five games are against sides above them on the ladder. And two of those matches - against the Dragons and Broncos - are in Australia. Certainly the Warriors won't want to leave things to the last fortnight, when they travel to Sydney to face defending premiers St George Illawarra and then face a Cowboys side likely to be boosted by the return of Johnathan Thurston in their final match.

The Warriors emerged from Friday night's dominant display with no fresh injury concerns and the side could soon be boosted by the return of blockbusting forward Ukuma Ta'ai.

The big Tongan made his return from an injury that has sidelined him since round 11 when he turned out for club side Mt Albert on Saturday. Ta'ai has been somewhat of a lucky charm this season, with the club winning all six matches he has played.

Brett Seymour, Glen Fisiiahi and Lewis Brown all remain on the injured list, however a dominant forward effort against the Bulldogs coupled with young halfback Shaun Johnson's encouraging display suggests the Warriors are well placed to push on towards another finals appearance.

While pushing into the top four appears to now be beyond them following a four-match losing run between their two byes, matching last year's fifth-placed finish is not beyond the realms of possibility.

The fifth-placed Cowboys were soundly beaten at home by the Tigers on Saturday night and may well be without talismanic playmaker Thurston for another four matches.

The Cowboys do, however, have a favourable run home, facing just two sides currently inside the top eight in their final seven matches.

While the Warriors may ultimately struggle to match last year's 14-win 10-loss record, 2011 has not been kind to many of last year's finals contenders. The Raiders, Roosters and Titans are already out of playoff contention.

A Sharks side that has won four in a row could push inside the top eight with an unlikely victory over the Dragons tonight.

Saturday night's golden point defeat has all-but killed off Stephen Kearney's Eels, while the Roosters suffered the same fate against the Panthers. Yesterday's thrashing at the hands of the Storm - the first time they have been held to nil in Canberra - also consigned the Raiders to also-ran status.

Manly's victory over the Knights pushes Newcastle down to ninth, below the Panthers on points differential.

- NZ Herald

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