Steve Deane: Warriors start to gain some momentum

Warriors coach Brian McClennan. Photo / Getty Images
Warriors coach Brian McClennan. Photo / Getty Images

Having measured themselves against the best, the Warriors will have discovered they have nothing to fear.

Having hit what coach Brian McClennan described as "rock bottom" just four weeks ago, the Warriors are now tracking upward nicely.

A three-match spell, which has produced impressive wins over the in-form Rabbitohs and Broncos and an equally encouraging loss to the still undefeated Storm, represents a significant revival for a team roundly thrashed by the Roosters and Raiders in consecutive weeks.

"It feels like we are heading in a positive direction," McClennan said yesterday. "It does feel like the last three games we have been gaining a bit more momentum. It is about the time we thought we'd start getting a bit better. We've just got to back it up and try to get better again next week when we play the Roosters."

With his side still precariously placed at 4-5 and sitting outside the top eight, McClennan's somewhat subdued assessment is understandable.

However, having measured themselves against the best, the Warriors will have discovered they have nothing to fear. The Rabbitohs had cobbled together impressive back-to-back wins before being demolished at Mt Smart Stadium, the Storm survived a serious mauling from the Warriors' forwards thanks only to a couple of calamitous individual blunders and the Broncos left empty-handed, despite bringing their A-game.

The reasons for optimism are many. McClennan has copped plenty of stick in an early trial by fire in his fledgling NRL career, but the coach deserves kudos for the 30-20 victory.

Faced with a Broncos side which has shredded opponents out wide this season, McClennan reshuffled his resources shrewdly. Ben Henry, the once-maligned youngster who is emerging as one of the side's more dependable characters, switched flanks from right to left, while top defender Elijah Taylor also slotted into the previously shaky left side. The result was a vastly improved defensive unit. Throw in the also oft-maligned Jerome Ropati's rock solid display at fullback and Konrad Hurrell's 80-minute effort after being sent to the Vulcans to work on his match fitness, and McClennan had a good few reasons to feel a bit better about life.

Having been hit hard by injuries to key personnel, the club also caught a break, with Jacob Lillyman returning just as Sam Rapira bowed out with an ankle injury. Rapira had just hit his straps, so to have Lillyman back to face the relentless Broncos was a bonus.

They might not yet be out of the woods. However, a season that had looked to be slipping away is now still well and truly alive. A forward pack that has reasserted itself as one of the competition's most dominant has been at the heart of the revival.

While the likes of Australian stars Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Paul Gallen head the field in the chase for the Dally M medal, observers on this side of the Ditch might well have a different take on who is the game's best player. If there is a more consistently effective player than Ben Matulino running around, I haven't seen him. To borrow a phrase legendary boxing trainer Cus D'Mato used to describe Mike Tyson, Matulino has always hit with bad intentions. Now that he carries the ball with equal venom, he is the premier bopper in the game.

If the Warriors continue to follow Matulino's lead, there is no reason their upward trajectory should flatten out any time soon.

- NZ Herald

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