NRL: Warriors have 'earned their spots' - Cleary

The Warriors celebrate during their win over the Sea Eagles on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images
The Warriors celebrate during their win over the Sea Eagles on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images

It's not part of the job Ivan Cleary likes, handing a lucky ticket to some and leaving others sidelined, but naming the side to tackle Manly on Sunday was one of the easier teams to select this season.

Cleary has stuck with the same 18 players who got the Warriors to the grand final with their impressive 20-12 win over Melbourne last weekend.

They have no new injuries - plenty of niggles but nothing to stop anyone playing the biggest game of the year - and players who seem remarkably fresh and grounded despite their torrid run in recent weeks.

"We didn't have a bad player [against the Storm] in the weekend and, luckily, all the boys are ready to go again," Cleary said. "I think they have earned their spots."

The Warriors have been able to field a relatively settled lineup over recent weeks. Cleary often tinkers with his starting side - he made three changes to the side originally named to face the Storm - but has made few to the playing 17.

Krisnan Inu was brought back into the side after the season-ending injury to Joel Moon a fortnight ago and the powerful but unpredictable Ukuma Ta'ai was jettisoned after the first two playoffs games in favour of Elijah Taylor's workrate.

The final will mark Cleary's 154th and last match as Warriors coach before he joins the Phil Gould revolution at Penrith next season. It will also be the last game for 10-year veteran Lance Hohaia, who will join St Helens in the UK Super League next season. Hohaia will be playing his 185th match since making his debut in 2002 - the first and last time the Warriors played in the grand final - the third-highest on the Warriors' all-time list behind Stacey Jones (261) and Logan Swann (195).

It will all add to what will be an intense and sometimes crazy week for the Warriors that will also feature the traditional grand final breakfast and parade in front of the Sydney Opera House. Many players have often said they can be overwhelmed by grand final week but Cleary likes what he has seen in his players so far and has few doubts they will be in the right headspace when they run out onto ANZ Stadium on Sunday evening.

"I was really impressed straight after the [Storm] game back at the hotel," he said. "There were certainly some celebrations but they were pretty grounded. We started talking logistically about how the week would go and they were all ears to it. When we came home on the plane, it felt like a win. It was a good feeling, but it just felt like another one.

"I hope the guys will be ready to go again. In the last few weeks, some of these guys have played their biggest games. It's the same again this week and, so far, they have been able to handle it and I don't see why they can't do it this time."

Skipper Simon Mannering, second-rower Feleti Mateo and prop Ben Matulino will all be playing their 28th-straight game of the year in what has been the longest season in the club's history. When the Warriors reached the grand final nine years ago, they played 27 matches after advancing to the third week of the finals following their week-one victory over Canberra.

The Warriors will feature in all three grand finals on Sunday, with the Auckland Vulcans (featuring many Warriors players) taking on Canterbury-Bankstown in the New South Wales Cup grand final in the first game of the afternoon followed by the Junior Warriors looking to defend the title they won last season when they meet the Cowboys.

"It's enormous," Cleary said. "It doesn't happen too often, twice in the last 20 years. But to be able to do it from little New Zealand, to be taking on the might of the NRL, it's an amazing achievement."

It will be even more amazing if they win all three.

- APNZ

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