NRL: Warriors and Eels look for change of fortunes

By Michael Brown

Thomas Leuluai of the New Zealand Warriors. Photo / Getty Images.
Thomas Leuluai of the New Zealand Warriors. Photo / Getty Images.

Warriors coach Matt Elliott labels it a "transition" year and Parramatta fullback Jarryd Hayne talks about "new beginnings" but there's little doubt the only way is up for two clubs who were dreadful last year.

It wasn't that long ago the Warriors (2011) and Eels (2009) were beaten grand finalists but they have fallen heavily since and occupied two of the bottom three spots last year.

It is appropriate, then, that they square off in their season openers in Parramatta on Saturday night.

Both clubs have made notable signings in the off-season but the biggest were new coaches - the Warriors picked up Elliott after sacking Brian McClennan and the Eels have gone with Ricky Stuart.

Both are renowned for putting a big emphasis on discipline and defence, and Elliott said earlier this week fans should expect a conservative approach from his players in the early rounds as they try to find some momentum.

The only kind they had at the end of last season was of the losing variety and the Warriors go into the match still riding a club-record eight-game losing streak. It is something they are trying to ignore, given the myriad changes that have happened at Mt Smart Stadium over the off-season, and Elliott doesn't think he will have to say much to stir his players before the game.

"Churchillian speeches, there's a place for them, but not in round one," he said. "If these guys aren't motivated and pumped up to play round one then we're in a fair bit of trouble. Occasionally you need to pull that stuff out and tweak guys emotionally, but if you are reliant on that you are probably going to lose more than you win."

The Warriors won only eight of 24 last year and only Parramatta were worse with six - they were beaten in 10 of their first 11 in 2012.

The Eels lost Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt to retirement at the end of last season but weren't particularly active in the player market, with Manly duo Darcy Lussick and Daniel Harrison the most notable additions.

Hayne will start at fullback with Luke Kelly taking over at five-eighth and they also have the likes of Fuifui Moimoi, Matthew Keating, Reni Maitua and Chris Sandow.

But they are not a side to be feared and a strong-looking Warriors will be confident of a rare win on the opening day of the season - they have won only four of their 16 first-round matches.

It will help having Shaun Johnson on deck, after the halfback hyper-extended his elbow in the 16-10 pre-season defeat of Brisbane a fortnight ago and was in doubt for the start of the season. He came through contact training this week but admitted it's still not completely healed.

"I would be lying if I said it was 100 per cent now," he said. "I got told it was a three-week injury and I have a chance to come back a week early. I'm confident it's definitely going to be good enough to play. I wouldn't put myself in a position where I let down my teammates by thinking it's not quite there."

There are bound to be jitters in both outfits tomorrow night but for one club, they will at least be able to enjoy the view from the top half of the table afterwards. Neither did much of that last year.

Warriors team to play Parramatta at Parramatta Stadium, Sydney, on Saturday (7.30pm NZT): Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c), Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Ben Henry, Jacob Lillyman, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Pita Godinet, Steve Rapira, Charlie Gubb.

Eels: Jarryd Hayne, Ken Sio, Ryan Morgan, Jacob Loko, Cheyse Blair, Luke Kelly, Chris Sandow, Joseph Paulo, Ben Smith, Reni Maitua, Tim Mannah, Matthew Keating, Darcy Lussick. Interchange: Ben Roberts, Fuifui Moimoi, Mitchell Allgood, Matt Ryan.

- APNZ

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