Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Rollercoaster ride hits a high point

Michael Burgess takes a look back at the Warriors’ season so far.

Feleti Mateo's form has improved since here committed to the club. Photo / Getty Images
Feleti Mateo's form has improved since here committed to the club. Photo / Getty Images

From dark lows to more recent highs, the 2013 Warriors season has already been one to remember, with 10 games still to go. The top eight remains an extremely difficult assignment but respectability, credibility and belief - which at times looked gone - have been achieved, with a solid platform from which to attack the rest of the season. Here are the ups and downs, the Minties moments and champagne plays that have shaped this season so far.

'Hayne train' back on the rails, vs Eels (Round one)

After a tough pre-season, a huge increase in Warriors' resources and some solid off-season signings, a 40-10 thrashing against last year's hapless wooden spooners was an unpleasant surprise. The Eels, now back at the bottom of the ladder, looked world beaters as Jarryd Hayne helped himself to a hat-trick. Coach Matt Elliott was forced to assess aspects of his game plan and structure and all the pre-season hype was gone in three executions of Hayne's airplane try celebration.

Shaun Johnson's kick, vs Roosters (Round two)

With a massive focus on this game (Eden Park, Sonny Bill Williams, first home match of 2013. . .) Johnson's awful shank late in the game was unfortunately given more attention than it maybe deserved, as concern focused on his ability to handle the goalkicking role. His kicking has improved and he has landed some important goals, though a success rate of less than 70 per cent is still low by NRL standards.

Hanging on, vs Cowboys (Round four)

The win snapped an awful streak dating back to July 2012 but was achieved the hard way. After grabbing a lead, the Warriors hung on grimly, helped as the Cowboys squandered chances. Kevin Locke made at least two try-saving tackles and Johnson kicked some crucial goals.

Goldenspell, vs Rabbitohs (Round five)

It didn't result in two points but the golden spell against Souths (they scored three tries in the first 11 minutes of the second half) was important for several reasons. It marked out Pita Godinet as NRL standard, confirmed Ngani Laumape as one of the finds of 2013 and was the first hint of some genuine attacking ability under Elliott.

The dreadful finish, vs Raiders (Round six)

Canberra tend to be underestimated (they remain unbeaten at home in 2013) but this was a dreadful finish. Inexplicable individual errors saw the Warriors lose all momentum in the last half hour, after they had been the better team in the first 50 minutes. Though there were some dubious refereeing calls (highlighted by Elliott), most of the mistakes were Keystone Cops material, funny if only they didn't hurt so much. A bitter defeat, after leading until the 76th minute.

Aidan Sezer's knock-on, vs Titans (Round eight)

At the time last on the table, the Warriors seemed to have sealed a desperately needed win when they led 24-6 with 15 minutes to play. But they lost their way badly as the Titans closed to 24-18. Golden point looked inevitable as the Titans attacked near the Warriors' posts with four minutes to play. But Sezer, who had kicked two monstrous 40-20s, spilt the ball on the first tackle and a Johnson field goal a minute later made the game safe.

Glen Fisiiahi's golden half, vs Bulldogs (Round nine)

Fisiiahi was electric in the first half of the Capital Clash in Wellington, creating one try with his pace and scoring another. Along with the team, he fell away after halftime as the Bulldogs physically overwhelmed the Warriors. Fisiiahi had passed an important mark and hasn't looked back, with some sensational displays, especially in the past two weeks.

Feleti Mateo's contract

There have been two Feleti Mateos this season: Mateo BC (before contract) and Mateo AD (after deal). The first six weeks of the season, he was fairly anonymous, far from the messiah the fans expect, but since finalising his future, he has played like a god. The flair is back (16 offloads in the recent four-game winning streak) but so is the fight, using his powerful frame (1.94m, 108kg) to inflict damage on attack and defence.

Smiles in defeat, vs Penrith (Round 10)

If the 62-6 shellacking wasn't bad enough, the sight of several players smiling after the match added to the general frustration surrounding the defeat. That reaction racheted the tension up several notches around the club, leading to a crisis meeting and honesty sessions that lived up to their name. The Warriors conceded 10 tries in 60 chaotic minutes against the Panthers; since then, they have held two teams scoreless in the second half (the Knights and Roosters) and given up only 10 tries in more than five hours of football.

Elijah Taylor's opportunity

Since being given the chance in his favoured position at the back of the scrum, Taylor has been a top performer. Three tries, numerous tackles and non-stopwork shows he was wasted as a utility. Fans were disappointed when his departure to Penrith was announced and, given his current form, now even more so.

Ben Matulino's offload, vs Sea Eagles (Round 13)

This moment of pure magic - an impossible offload to Thomas Leuluai from a prop at full pace-didn't lead to a try, though one came on the next play. It showed that the confidence and belief was restored. It was instinctive and demonstrated that, after the wins against the Knights and Broncos, the team had remembered who they were and how good they could be.

Entire second half vs Roosters (Round 14)

Despite a large possession and territory deficit and several repeat sets, the Warriors successfully defended their line for the entire second half against one of the most dangerous attacking sides in the NRL. Glen Fisiiahi's implausible 'pickpocket' of Shaun Kenny Dowell was a rarely seen piece of play but it was the work across the field and numerous repeat efforts that eventually knocked the stuffing out of the Roosters.

- Herald on Sunday

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