NRL: Challenging week for coach and players

By Michael Brown

Matt Elliott.  Photo / Michael Craig
Matt Elliott. Photo / Michael Craig

Tough, challenging, difficult. Call it what you want, and a lot of people have used much more colourful language, but it has been a demanding week for the Warriors after their humiliating capitulation against Penrith last weekend.

Two characters have been at the centre of the discussion - coach Matt Elliott and halfback Shaun Johnson - and both are dealing with the situation in their own way.

Elliott has faced calls for him to be sacked and many are beginning to question whether he's the right man to turn around the Warriors' fortunes.

He's fronted up to the criticism, believing he has to face it head-on, but looks like he's carrying a heavy burden and snapped at a radio journalist who had the temerity to wonder if he might have made more than two changes for tomorrow's game against Newcastle.

"People who ask that question have got no idea of who's available," Elliott said.

"I am sick of hearing it. It's a dumb question. Who are you going to bring in? You don't know because you haven't put any research into it."

It was, to borrow Elliott's vernacular, a "dumb" response because coaches tend to last longer if they have the respect and backing of local media. But it was a reflection of the pressure Elliott is under.

"I would rather [the focus] not be on me," he said. "I'm not someone who adores standing here even in the good times. But that's what I sign up for. I don't hide in corners either.

"It's been a challenging week as a coach but that's what we do in sport at the elite level.

"We experience life on the epic stage. We have extreme highs ... and the opposite occasionally.

"Blame is not something that works with me but I take responsibility because that's my job. If I don't take responsibility for it I have bugger-all chance of fixing anything.

"What prevailed [last weekend] is not new here but the fact it is still here is my fault.

"It's my responsibility. That's what you sign up for as a head coach. If you start blaming players for it, I think that's weak."

Johnson felt he was being held accountable for a lot of what happened last weekend when he was dragged from the field after just 49 minutes.

It's very uncommon for halfbacks to be substituted and the 22-year-old said he felt "humiliated" and "embarrassed".

His reaction has divided opinion. Many fans labelled him petulant and a sook - and much worse - but Johnson has now accepted the situation.

"At the time I found it really hard to take because it felt like he was putting it all on me," said Johnson, who admitted he was relieved to be named in the starting side for tomorrow.

"I was thinking, 'I'm a halfback, I can't really stop 60-odd points'. But looking back, I can see why he did it.

"What has really got to me is that all of a sudden I've been terrible, crap, I'm a has-been, I'm a one-year man.

"Two or three weeks ago I'm pretty sure everyone was saying I'm heading in the right direction.

"It's a bit hard to get a bearing on."

It is, in reality, the lot of halfbacks. They are the fulcrum of the team and the ones everyone looks towards to provide control, class and creativity.

Any repeat of last week's effort will be disastrous for the Warriors both individually and collectively.

After taking a couple of steps forward in recent weeks, they took a giant leap backwards against the Panthers and another capitulation will invite more invective.

That would only make the situation even more challenging.

• Scans yesterday confirmed utility Ben Henry has become the third Warriors player to have his 2013 season ended by a knee injury.

The 21-year-old injured his knee in training with scans showing he has ruptured the ACL in his left knee. He's expected to have surgery in four weeks.

Warriors v Knights

Mt Smart Stadium, 4.05pm tomorrow

Warriors: Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou, Dane Nielsen, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Russell Packer, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (C), Carlos Tuimavave
Interchange: Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Elijah Taylor, Glen Fisiiahi, Ngani Laumape, Pita Godinet.

Knights: Darius Boyd, James McManus, Joey Leilua, Dane Gagai, Akuila Uate, Jarrod Mullen, Tyrone Roberts, Kade Snowden, Kurt Gidley, Willie Mason, Robbie Rochow, Alex McKinnon, David Fa'alogo
Interchange: Travis Waddell, Neville Costigan, Adam Cuthbertson, Korbin Sims, Kevin Naiqama.

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