NRL: Warriors running into another ambush

By Michael Brown

Dane Nielsen tries to find the line in the recent loss to the Sharks at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson
Dane Nielsen tries to find the line in the recent loss to the Sharks at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson

The Warriors have had the misfortune of running into a few ambushes and they face another one this weekend when they tackle a Manly outfit under the spotlight of the drugs probe across the Tasman.

Playing the Sea Eagles is a difficult assignment at the best of times - Manly have won 67 per cent of games between the two sides which is bettered by only the Dragons (79 per cent) - but it will be another proposition altogether given a handful of players and coaching staff are due to be interviewed by Asada officials this week.

Situations like theirs often galvanise teams - look what it has done for Cronulla this season who have been at the centre of investigations all year - and the Warriors have found themselves on the end of a few hidings as a result.

Earlier this year they went to Cronulla to take on a Sharks outfit only two days after coach Shane Flanagan was reinstated as coach after earlier being stood down by the club in light of the Asada investigations. The Warriors were poor but were overrun 28-4.

In 2010, Ivan Cleary's side were belted 40-6 by a Melbourne side angry at having their 2007 and 2009 NRL titles stripped three days earlier because of the massive salary cap breach. No one would have beaten the Storm that day, irrespective of the fact they boasted a side A$700,000 over the NRL's salary cap, and they were roared home by a big crowd of 23,906 fans at Etihad Stadium keen to show their support for the players.

In 2007, they were forced to play their finals match against the Cowboys in sweltering 30-degree heat at 4pm and, to add insult to injury, made to wear their black jerseys. They conceded 24 points in the final quarter to lose 49-12.

It's not always an insurmountable obstacle. Three weeks ago the Warriors saw off the Wests Tigers 24-14 even though it was Benji Marshall's last game at Leichhardt Oval and they had won only once at the ground before.

The Warriors will want to bounce back from their 18-14 defeat to the Sharks on Saturday to get their surge for the playoffs back on track but a loss to Manly won't be terminal. They need to win at least three games to sneak into the top eight and have the advantage of playing sides around them or below them on the table in their last four - Panthers (H), Titans (A), Raiders (H), Dragons (A).

Coach Matt Elliott has named the same 17 for the third week in a row to take on the Sea Eagles and Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai are set to achieve the distinction of being the only halves pairing among the 16 clubs to start every game this season. Johnson had an ordinary game against Cronulla but he wasn't alone.

"We didn't have the performance we expected of ourselves against the Sharks," Elliott said. "We were all disappointed with various aspects of our display. That said, we were still able to put ourselves in a position to win it. We know what we need to do and we also know we'll need to be immeasurably better, right up to our best, to be able to compete with Manly."

Manly are on a five-game winning streak, although all were against bottom-eight sides and two were against the woeful Eels, which has lifted them to third on the NRL ladder.

Warriors side to play Manly at Bluetongue Stadium, Sydney, on Sunday (4pm): Kevin Locke, Ngani Laumape, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c), Elijah Taylor. Interchange: Suaia Matagi, Jacob Lillyman, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux.


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