NRL: Warriors gear up for SBW show

By Michael Brown

Thomas Leuluai of the Warriors crosses for a try only to have it disallowed. Photo / Getty Images
Thomas Leuluai of the Warriors crosses for a try only to have it disallowed. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors have a slogan this year of 'Rise With Us' and for fans it can't come soon enough after a disappointing and deflating start to the season that conjured up memories of a dreadful 2012 campaign.

All of the optimism of pre-season was eroded in 80 minutes against Parramatta, when they were thrashed 40-10 by last year's wooden spooners.

The Warriors had been bullish before that match about how they had crossed a line in the sand and last year was history. Sadly, it doesn't seem like everyone crossed that line and Warriors coach Matt Elliott now says he has a better understanding of that.

As much as he needs to work on his side's defence, he also needs to ensure his players are tuned in as they contemplate a 10th-straight NRL defeat. He has said they were "tired and disjointed" against the Eels and "too easily distracted".

They will come up against a fairly big one on Saturday, when the man with the three most recognisable initials in Australasian sport comes to Eden Park with the Sydney Roosters.

Sonny Bill Williams has more than enough ability to exploit a defence that conceded seven tries against the Eels and it's only a matter of time before he finds his feet again after five years away from rugby league.

The presence of Williams is probably a good thing for the Warriors. Not only will it attract punters to Eden Park but it will also take some of the spotlight off a Warriors outfit seemingly battling their own demons.

Elliott has resisted the urge to make wholesale changes to the starting side to face the Roosters. Bill Tupou will play on the wing in place of Manu Vatuvei, who is out for up to three weeks with an ankle injury, and Steve Rapira will start in the second row instead of Feleti Mateo, who drops to the bench.

Former Kiwis captain Hugh McGahan isn't too worried about the Warriors, yet, and expects to see a much improved effort against the Roosters.

"The embarrassment of that defeat will always raise their performance," McGahan said. "They have to play their way out of it. Once they are playing well, their confidence will come back but it is just one game. It's still early days so I can understand why Matt Elliott has kept the team the same.

"They just have to start getting into a groove. I keep coming back to the same problem - the halves are still an issue. Shaun Johnson is not playing well and Thomas Leuluai is not a halfback, he's a hooker. He's not creative enough."

Pita Godinet provided some spark off the bench last weekend and he is part of an extended five-man interchange to play the Roosters. Utility Ben Henry is also included on the bench after missing the last match through injury.

Steve Rapira will get the chance to start an NRL match for the first time alongside his brother Sam. Four sets of brothers have now played together for the Warriors in official first-grade matches - Tea and Iva Ropati, Vinnie and Louis Anderson and Jerry and Anthony Seuseu and the Rapiras who spent some time on the park together last weekend but not as starters.

Warriors side to play the Sydney Roosters at Eden Park, Auckland, on Saturday (7.30pm): Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Bill Tupou, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Steve Rapira, Simon Mannering (c), Todd Lowrie. Interchange (one to be omitted): Jacob Lillyman, Feleti Mateo, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Pita Godinet, Ben Henry.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 29 Dec 2014 17:44:47 Processing Time: 337ms