Richie Barnett on league
Opinion and analysis from former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett

Richie Barnett: Warriors should make the top eight

Matt Elliott is a good match for the Warriors. Photo / Michael Craig
Matt Elliott is a good match for the Warriors. Photo / Michael Craig

I have never seen the NRL ladder look so congested at this time of the season, but the Warriors will sneak into the top eight.

Only two points separate fifth (Newcastle) and 11th (Warriors) and it's getting exciting because three good teams will miss out. The Knights have been flying under the radar and should keep their spot in the top eight, the Bulldogs seem to be coming right - as they normally do at this time of the year - which leaves five teams chasing two places.

I expect the Raiders to drop away because of their struggles away from Canberra and the Titans to fade. That leaves the Sharks and Panthers along with the Warriors, who will get there based on what they have produced over the last six weeks.

People ask whether the coach or the players should get the most credit for the Warriors' turnaround. It's not that simple; they both deserve credit. Matt Elliott is a good fit for the Warriors. He's old-school and talks a lot about the primal aspects of the game, like digging in, working hard and being accountable for your actions.

The Warriors needed to be honest about their performances earlier in the season and now their actions are doing the talking.

There's no magic in coaching. It's about accountability and getting the best out of players and the way to do that is for players to know what their role in a team is and how they can do it best.

Often the best way is to keep things simple and Elliott appears to do that.

The players look like they understand and embrace the game plan and Thomas Leuluai has been a major influence. He keeps things simple and has a phenomenal work-rate and it has seen Shaun Johnson raise his game.

There's a widespread belief Leuluai will move into hooker next season with Nathan Friend having been told he can look elsewhere - but the Warriors would be mad not to keep Friend.

Leuluai is a good hooker but why change something that's working? People shouldn't underestimate what he brings to five-eighth.

To me, Friend is critical to the Warriors' fortunes over the next year or two - he works hard, is intelligent and a good talker in the middle of the park. I don't see why the Warriors are contemplating change.

The Warriors face a big challenge against Melbourne on Sunday but the Storm are a team they enjoy playing. The Storm are efficient and have a great kicking game but they are vulnerable on the edges and were exposed last week by the Bulldogs.

The Warriors have a style that unsettles Melbourne - they have the forward power that wins territory advantage and the attacking flair that provides unpredictability. The test for the Warriors will be to expose the Storm's only weakness, which is the up-and-in defence that leaves opportunities on the edge if Johnson and Leuluai can deliver the right pass to Manu Vatuvei and Ngani Laumape. Their playoff chances depend on it.

- NZ Herald

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