NRL: Warriors after vital momentum

By Daniel Richardson

Warrior Manu Vatuvei celebrates scoring a try during the NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the New Zealand Warriors at Centrebet Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Warrior Manu Vatuvei celebrates scoring a try during the NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the New Zealand Warriors at Centrebet Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

It's coming to that time of the NRL season where momentum is vital for a team to push for the top eight and Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson wants his side to start making that run this weekend.

Coming off the back of an important 30-16 win over Penrith across the Tasman on Monday night, the Warriors return to Sydney this week to meet the over-achieving Cronulla Sharks on Saturday night.

The unfashionable Sharks are the working-class side of the competition with few stars outside NSW Origin players Paul Gallen and Todd Carney. But they have carved out an impressive record this year with eight wins and five losses, which is good for sixth on a tight NRL ladder.

The Warriors sit two points outside the top eight in ninth place with six wins from 13 games and victory this weekend would set the wheels in motion for that almost annual late-season run at the playoffs.

"At this time of year we are ... heading into the back half of the season, everyone wants to make that run and get on a roll," Johnson said.

"I thought the game we played on the weekend [against Penrith] was a performance blueprint for us to do that. We did everything we talked about and we are going to have to be even better this weekend to get up against the Sharks.

"We are just up for a challenge and I'm sure there'll be no excuses come Saturday."

The Warriors face a challenge in the sense they've been forced to start their game with their third-choice hooker after long-term injuries to Nathan Friend (broken jaw) and Alehana Mara (leg).

Their respective ailments have thrust bench utility Lewis Brown into the No 9 jumper and the five-test Kiwi could be set for a big shift out of dummy-half considering there is no recognised back-up on the interchange pine either.

Brown has spent plenty of time at hooker in the past but following Friend's arrival this year hadn't played there until Monday night when Mara went off injured in the first half.

Brown's last start in the No 9 jersey was against the Titans in late 2009, but Johnson backed Brown, who will join Penrith next year on a three-year deal, to make a good fist of his dig at hooker this weekend.

"Lewi's played a bit there before and played a fair few minutes there last week so I'm sure we are not going to lose too much in that area. He's quite strong and loves to get out and have a run so I'm sure he will do a good job."

Another sight that would've been pleasing to any Warriors fan would've been watching Manu Vatuvei bag two tries in the victory over Penrith. Despite some up-and-down form in the past few weeks, Johnson said the giant wing had the full support of the team.

"We never thought Manu was out of form. He made a couple of mistakes but against the Storm [two weeks ago] he still made 100 metres with his carries and was getting us on the front foot.

"I think it's just something the media likes to build up but for us he would be the first player picked every time. So it was good to see him score a couple of tries."

It was two Johnson kicks that laid on Vatuvei's four-pointers against Penrith and the Warriors will hope the pair can link up again this weekend.

Kick-off is at 7.30pm on Saturday night.

Sharks: Matthew Wright, Isaac Gordon, Ben Pomeroy, Colin Best, Nathan Stapleton, Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Bryce Gibbs, Isaac De Gois, Ben Ross, Jeremy Smith, Jayson Bukuya, Paul Gallen (c). Interchange (from): Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, John Morris, Mark Taufua, Sam Tagataese, Chad Townsend

Warriors: Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, James Maloney, Shaun Johnson, Russell Packer, Lewis Brown, Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor, Simon Mannering (c), Feleti Mateo. Interchange: Steve Rapira, Sione Lousi, Jacob Lillyman, Micheal Luck

- APNZ

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