Hard work pays off as opening game 'turnstile' becomes Warriors' best defensive centre.
The Warriors have always been impressed with the cut of Ben Henry's jib.
"A fine young man", is how coach Brian McClennan describes the 20-year-old NRL rookie. That glowing character assessment has only been enhanced by the way Henry has picked himself up and dusted himself off following a tough introduction to the NRL.
He was brutally exposed by Steve Matai in the Warriors' opening game, with the rampaging Kiwis centre treating him like a turnstile to score direct from a scrum in the 22nd minute. It was the Sea Eagles' third try in a blistering start in front of a bumper Eden Park crowd.
A backrower since the age of 12, Henry's unannounced appearance as a starting centre would have surprised many in the 37,000-plus crowd, and Matai treating him like road kill went down like a lead balloon. Throw in the (then) mysterious absence of 2011 finals hero Krisnan Inu, and Henry found himself smack bang in the middle of a public selection controversy.
Many would have wilted under that sort of pressure. Not Henry.
"He never let it get him down, so he has got resilience," McClennan said. "He just turned up and worked hard the next week - no fuss, no frills - and went a bit better. Then he did the same the week after. He has been doing that each week. He hasn't let up one bit."
McClennan's assessment of Henry appears spot on.
His weekly improvements continued to the point where he was one of the few Warriors to emerge with any credit from the flogging by the Raiders in Canberra, while the next week against the Rabbitohs he played a key role in taming Greg Inglis to earn the players' player-of-the-day award.
In fact, with Jerome Ropati battling injuries, Konrad Hurrell struggling to play 80 minutes, and Inu just plain struggling, Henry has emerged as the team's most solid centre.
He might not yet look like a natural in the highly challenging position, but he is looking more and more comfortable.
That air of assurance is a far cry from when he emerged onto Eden Park two months ago wondering what he'd got himself into.
"The noise and the nerves running through me didn't help," Henry said. "I'm just glad I got that first game out of the way.
"There was a lot of criticism and stuff but I just had to put that behind me and start again. So far it has been pretty good."
He dealt with that criticism largely by avoiding it.
"I try to stay away from the papers, just come to the gym and do what I do best, that is train and work on my game.
"To be a professional athlete on the NRL stage you've just got to let go of those mistakes and carry on.
"That's what I've taken on board - every week take it step by step, set goals so I can get better."
While Henry's improving form has made McClennan's initial selection look a little less baffling, the coach also puts his hand up for the blame over Henry's miss on Matai. The team defended the scrum with a 4-2 split instead of 5-1, leaving Manly with a numerical advantage and 48m of field to work with. McClennan insisted the issue was a tactical error from the coach as much as any defensive frailty on Henry's part.
Statistics suggest Henry is in fact the Warriors' best defensive centre. He has completed 155 tackles while missing just 13. Ropati, by comparison, has completed 69 and missed 16. Hurrell hasn't had anywhere near the same game time but has missed 25 per cent of the 24 tackles he has attempted.
Henry is clearly coping, but he admits nerves are still a factor in his game.
"It is tough. Just knowing that I haven't been in that position that often gets me nervous, but the boys are encouraging me and letting me know that if you make a decision you've just got to live with it."
If he can thrive at centre, there is a significant personal upside.
"The club has been struggling in the centre position so it is an opportunity for me to get some game time, and I want to take it with both hands. It is just trying to get used to it, trying to get better.
"There are a lot of good centres in the NRL so I have to have my wits about me and just do everything I can for the team."
It is that work ethic, capacity for improvement, and strong character that the Warriors love about Henry.
"He is a fine young man," McClennan said. "He has got respect for the people around him and his teammates. He is really well liked.
"If we can keep bringing kids through our development system like him the Warriors are going to be a strong team."By Steve Deane Email Steve