NRL: Warriors' prop stars hoping for another hit

By Michael Brown

Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino (Pictured), Sam Rapira and Russell Packer would rate as one of the best, if not the best, propping rotation in the competition. Photo / Getty Images.
Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino (Pictured), Sam Rapira and Russell Packer would rate as one of the best, if not the best, propping rotation in the competition. Photo / Getty Images.

There were a number of ingredients behind the Warriors' run to the 2011 NRL grand final but one of the major ones was the form of the four-prop rotation and it's hoped that quartet can now propel the club up the ladder this season.

Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino, Sam Rapira and Russell Packer would rate as one of the best, if not the best, propping rotation in the competition. Sadly, they were too rarely on the field together last season as injuries hit and it was little coincidence the Warriors finished near the foot of the table.

The four have appeared together in three matches so far this season and it has seen a marked improvement in the Warriors' form. All four have played in excess of 100 NRL games each and played international or State of Origin football.

They are good friends - some within the squad even suggested they have their own secret handshake - and get together after games to review their performances.

They even approached coach Matt Elliott recently about making subtle changes to their game plan.

Against Gold Coast last weekend, Packer and Rapira started impressively as they made good metres up the middle and the Titans had no respite when Matulino and Lillyman were injected from the bench. It gave halves Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai good ball to work with and they posted their biggest points haul of the season.

"In 2011 that was a big part of our game,'' Lillyman said. ``We have been wanting to get all four boys on the park for a while now... because we just feel a bit more confident and the team does as well. It's something that is certainly going to improve over the next few weeks. Hopefully all the boys can stay fit.''

The biggest challenge to that at the moment is Rapira's troubling wrist injury, which restricted him to just 24 minutes against the Titans. He has been cleared of any serious damage, however, and all four will line up against the Bulldogs in Wellington on Saturday night.

They will come up against another good rotation boosted last week by the return of both Sam Kasiano (injury) and James Graham (suspension). Those two were instrumental in the Bulldogs' run to last year's grand final and they are well backed up by Aidan Tolman and Dale Finucane.

Graham and Kasiano were excellent in their 40-4 hammering of the Wests Tigers last weekend and it helped the Bulldogs post consecutive wins for the first time this season.

Two-straight wins is something the Warriors are chasing tomorrow and the battle up the middle is expected to be crucial.

Warriors coach Matt Elliott knew he had four good props when he arrived at Mt Smart Stadium this season but had little idea how much of an impact they had on the team.

"If you had asked me three weeks ago, `are you looking forward to getting the four-prop rotation back?' I would have gone, `oh yeah'. But it really has had a bigger impact across the team than I had covered,'' Elliott said.

"I underestimated the influence of it, both performance-wise and on their teammates. Having the four of them there is something they really enjoy and I know the team feeds off it as well.

'' I am so content with who we have in our team and I know they can be part of us winning comps. Now we have to get other little units like that joining together.''

- APNZ

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