NRL: Warriors face up to growing expectations

By Michael Brown

Simon Mannering. Photo / Getty Images.
Simon Mannering. Photo / Getty Images.

Fans and bookies expect the Warriors to make the top eight and increased expectations can have a profound impact on players.

Some revel in it, others crumble. The Warriors are trying to do the former.

Last weekend they won their seventh game in their last eight starts and it has seen them firm with the bookies to $1.35 to make the top eight - they were $13 after the 62-6 defeat to Penrith - and are now sixth favourite to win the title.

It also saw a crowd of more than 20,000 descended on Mt Smart Stadium to watch them beat the Storm. If they can attract a similar-sized one on Saturday when Cronulla visit, it will be the first time they have attracted crowds over 20,000 twice in a season since 2009. Instead of hoping for it, most will expect a win.

"If it becomes an issue for us, then we probably need to get another job because it's what we do in the NRL,'' Warriors coach Matt Elliott said of the growing expectations.

"You want that expectation, pressure.

"I want us to play our best footy and, if we do that, other stuff is sorted. I'm pretty strong in the belief that as we develop, and we need to develop a whole lot more as a footy team, we will be a nightmare to play.

"It's exciting. It feels a lot better than it did in round six, I can tell you. We have given ourselves an opportunity to perhaps play some footy in September [in the playoffs] and that's what we are working on. But it's a big challenge this weekend.''

The Sharks have somehow managed to put aside the off-field dramas this season to sit two points ahead of the Warriors in sixth. They welcome back captain Paul Gallen from injury and have some other big beef in the likes of Andrew Fifita, Ben Ross, Sam Tagataese, Bryce Gibbs and Jayson Bukuya.

They steamrolled the Warriors 28-4 earlier this season, are one of only three teams to topple the Rabbitohs in 2013 and are in the top four of teams for metres gained and tackle breaks.

Elliott is weary of Gallen, a player he said was ``revered'', but was more worried about five-eighth Todd Carney who was brilliant in the 38-10 demolition of the Panthers last weekend. He scored a try, set up two others and kicked seven from seven attempts in a dominant display even though he was playing with a cracked sternum and illustrated why Elliott tried to lure him to Auckland next season before re-committing to the Sharks for another five seasons.

"It showed that when he's allowed to play good footy, they win,'' Elliott said. ``It's that simple. I understand Gallen but I think Todd Carney is their most influential player for sure. He's someone we have had to do our homework on.''

The key to neutralising Carney is to contain their forwards and make them do a lot of defensive work and also slow the ruck speed.

The Warriors will field the same 17 who played against Melbourne, even though props Russell Packer (hamstring) and Charlie Gubb (groin) are available. Captain Simon Mannering (neck) and halfback Shaun Johnson (back) sat out training today but both will play against the Sharks.

- APNZ

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