NRL: Warriors to release shackles against Storm

By Michael Brown

Jacob Lillyman. Photo /Getty
Jacob Lillyman. Photo /Getty

On the face of it, the Warriors don't stand a chance against the Melbourne Storm on Thursday night - which is why they will try to take the game to the defending NRL champions.

The Warriors sit in 15th on the ladder, above only the Bulldogs by virtue of a slightly superior points differential, and are 10 points behind the undefeated Storm. They have won only one game this season - although they have lost four by four points or less - and are in danger of losing touch with the top eight even though it is still early in the season.

What is boosting their confidence of an upset is the fact they have historically done well against the Storm in Melbourne, not least of all their dramatic win in the first round of the 2008 playoffs. Punters, however, give them little chance with Melbourne listed at short-priced odds to continue their winning streak.

The Warriors will be without winger Manu Vatuvei and centre Dane Nielsen and captain Simon Mannering is a major doubt. Coach Matt Elliott is hopeful Mannering, who injured a calf in the leadup to last week's Anzac test, will recover in time and he will be given until Thursday morning to prove his fitness.

"He's extremely unlikely but, while there's some possibility, we are going to take him away with us,'' Elliott said. "At this stage he's not playing. The physio tells me he's not chance of playing but I'm the optimist.

"While it's not a sign of desperation, we certainly want to get our best players on the park and obviously Simon is a big part of that.''

Todd Lowrie, Sam Rapira and Thomas Leuluai are candidates to assume the captaincy if Mannering is ruled out.

The Warriors will at least welcome back Jacob Lillyman, Elijah Taylor, Glen Fisiiahi, Pita Godinet and Jerome Ropati, who is a chance of making his first NRL appearance of the season after being included on a five-man bench. Ropati has been making his comeback from knee surgery with the Vulcans over the past month.

Lillyman's return means they will be able to boast their strong four-prop rotation for the first time in 18 matches but Elliott didn't want his players to get sucked into an arm wrestle against the masters of the grind.

"You are not going to beat them by being conservative,'' he said. "That's why historically they don't enjoy playing the Warriors. If we want to try to match Melbourne in a Melbourne-style of footy, we will come second.

"Every team has their vulnerability, some less than others. Being conservative is not how to break this team down. The less conservative, the more risk, but it also makes it enjoyable footy.''

Warriors side to play Melbourne at AAMI Park, Melbourne, on Thursday: Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou, Ngani Laumape, Konrad Hurrell, Glen Fisiiahi, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Russell Packer, Feleti Mateo, Ben Henry, Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Pita Godinet, Jerome Ropati.

- APNZ

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