Set of Six: Warriors must calm the Storm

By Justis Kamu

Shaun Johnson has markedly improved over the past seven weeks and is exerting his influence in games with a new-found calmness and maturity. Photo / Getty Images.
Shaun Johnson has markedly improved over the past seven weeks and is exerting his influence in games with a new-found calmness and maturity. Photo / Getty Images.

Justis Kamu looks at how the Warriors can overcome the Storm this weekend as well as other key talking points from the latest round of the NRL.

1. Warriors win will bag top eight spot
The New Zealand Warriors will pull out the welcome mat for the Melbourne Storm on Sunday which presents an opportunity for the home side to send out a loud statement to the rest of the competition.

The Storm who have the big three back in their lineup - Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater - are looking to finish the season with a minor premiership in the trophy cabinet.

Although they sit third on the ladder and are five points adrift of the top of the table Rabbitohs, they have an excellent shot of closing in on the leaders having had their bye last weekend.

Also the back end of the regular season, post Origin, you can expect the Storm to lift two or three notches to a higher, more intense level of play on route to the money rounds of the playoffs.

But in their way this weekend is a formidable Warriors outfit whose forward pack last weekend ripped through the Tigers who were left walking wounded for large parts of the second half.

The Warriors forwards have managed to perfect their interchange policy, by playing an up-tempo and physical style of relentless crash-bash football for 80 minutes.

Ben Matulino, Sam Rapira and Jacob Lillyman have been joined recently by Suaia Matagi who is proving a handful to stop.

In the halves Shaun Johnson has markedly improved over the past seven weeks and is exerting his influence in games with a new-found calmness and maturity.

Thomas Leuluai, a former halfback who is probably best at hooker but is playing at standoff, has shown his versatility after initially struggling.

The direct approach of the Warriors has always caused problems for the Storm who will no doubt stick to the tried and true brand of Melbourne footy - control possession and strangle teams on defence.

Sunday's showdown in front of a 15,000 plus crowd has potential to be another thriller to match their round 7 cliffhanger at AAMI Park in April.

Will the Warriors prove against the Storm that they truly are giant-killers or are they just mid-table pretenders?

2. Is Billy Slater's State of Origin influence diminishing?
Considering his performances in the latest State of Origin series, is Billy Slater's influence in the Queensland jersey fading?

Brent Tate and Justin Hodges, both at 31 years of age, were two of the standout Maroon backs with former Warriors centre Tate earning the man of the match award in the last game.

Slater who is 30 looked a shadow of his usual assured self during the three game series.

On attack, he made just two line break in 240 minutes and was largely restrained to returning kicks, and making runs from dummyhalf.

It's not often that he is the second-best fullback on the field, but he was overshadowed by Jarryd Hayne in game one and outplayed by Josh Dugan in game two and three in terms of on-field dominance and production.

At times Slater was manhandled flimsily by opposition who coped easily with his light frame and kept him pegged deep in his half after the kick chase.

Slater has been the NRL's premier fullback for the past eight years.

He has had a distinguished career representing the NRL All Stars, Queensland, Australia and winning one NRL title with the Melbourne Storm.

But is it time to hand over the Maroons number one jumper to Greg Inglis?

3. Tigers not helped by coach's interchange decisions
The West Tigers were soundly beaten by the Warriors on the weekend 24-14 with Shaun Johnson's 16 point haul leading the way at Leichhardt Oval.

Tigers coach Mick Potter has had a forgettable season in 2013 and that will continue if he persists with making bizarre decisions relating to his interchange bench.

Its imperative for coaches when their playing stocks have been hit hard by injuries that when accomplished players become available that they are not just part of the match day 17 but they get some significant playing time.

Tigers fans should be concerned at Potter's interchange policy when veteran five-eighth/lock Braith Anasta and prop Ben Murdoch-Masila play just 28 and 18 minutes.

Why was Anasta, one of the most experienced and respected leaders in the competition, left on the bench for 52 minutes?

Murdoch-Masila, a tough, aggressive, young forward with 30 games under his belt, didn't see any action till the last quarter of the game.

Yet Jack Buchanan, Ava Seumanufagai and Sauaso Sue, who are all rookies, played 30-55 minutes.

Despite the Tigers forwards tiring late in the first half, Potter persisted with his sluggish propping rotation of Adam Blair, Aaron Woods and Buchanan.

Introducing Anasta and Murdoch-Masila earlier was not going to change the game's outcome but they needed more leadership and footballing experience against a strong Warriors team.

Instead two players who have those intangibles were left on the interchange bench for the entire first half and much of the second.

4. Dallas Johnson will retire at season's end
North Queensland Cowboys lock Dallas Johnson has announced his retirement after playing 11 seasons of professional rugby league

The aggressive lock who makes his bread and butter from focusing largely on the defensive aspect of the game is calling it quits at the season's end after saying that he was in need of a new challenge in life after becoming mentally tired from playing the game.

Johnson's tackling prowess has seen him set a State of Origin record of 62 tackles in a game as well as making the most tackles in a game (64) and a season for the Cowboys with 1006.

He was a member of the title winning Melbourne Storm of 2007 and 2009 before shifting to the South of France to play for Les Catalans in the Super League competition.

After one season in at Catalans he opted out of the remaining two years of his contract to raise his child in Australia. He settled in Townsville and signed with the Cowboys to play for three seasons in 2011.

If the 13th placed Cowboys fail to make the playoffs, Johnson's final game in the NRL will be in round 26 against West Tigers at 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville.

All the best to Johnson in his future endeavors, he has been a great servant to the North Queensland Cowboys and the Melbourne Storm during his NRL career.

5. Your comments
From Smooth
Was getting a little sick of the arrogance of some of our rugby articles regarding the whole Benji matter. This is just the normal reaction in NZ rugby, where I believe a lot of the negative views are coming from the fans of teams that haven't been linked with such a high profile player.

- While rugby league will always be looked at as the poor cousin to union in New Zealand, the working man's game does have better athletes than what is seen in the 15 man code. The union folk in this country are very protective of the game's rich history, traditions and of course the All Blacks jersey. If he decides to cross over he will be heavily scrutinised by opposition defences and coaches alike. However it will be the opinions of everyday New Zealanders, who see themselves as gatekeepers to the AB's, that will have Benji under the most intensive examination.

6. Team of the week - Round 19
1. Fullback: Josh Dugan (Dragons)
2. Wing: Brett Morris (Dragons)
3. Centre: Jarrod Croker (Raiders)
4. Centre: Joseph Leilua (Knights)
5. Wing: Jason Nightingale (Dragons)
6. Five eighth: Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles)
7. Halfback: Shaun Johnson (Warriors)
8. Prop: Jared Warea-Hargreaves (Roosters)
9. Hooker: Mitch Rein (Dragons)
10. Prop: David Shillington (Raiders)
11. Secondrow: Boyd Cordner (Roosters)
12. Secondrow: Paul Vaughan (Raiders)
13. Lock: Trent Merrin (Dragons)

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