Michael Burgess

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

NRL: Only the best will do for Warriors to make play offs

Konrad Hurrell needs to be given more time and space on the pitch. Photo / Getty Images
Konrad Hurrell needs to be given more time and space on the pitch. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors will have to equal their best finish to the NRL round robin to qualify for the top eight play-offs.

Though three victories may be enough, most agree that to be certain of a finals spot, the Auckland club must win all four of their remaining games.

It's a feat the team has achieved only once in their 19-year history. In their four most recent runs to the finals (2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011), the Warriors won three of their final four games. In two of those seasons, the slip-up was against the Dragons in Woollongong, a clash the Warriors face in round 26 of this year.

The only time the club achieved a 100 per cent record in the final month of the regular season was improbably enough in 1999, when the Mark Graham-coached side beat the Knights and Dragons (who both reached the top eight) in Auckland and the Cowboys and Western Suburbs Magpies across the Tasman.

After today's Penrith match, the Warriors face the Titans (away), Raiders (home) and Dragons (away). Besides rediscovering their attacking momentum and the defensive fortitude that characterised their mid-season form, there are five other factors that need to be examined if they hope to feature in September.

1. Let the 'Nugget' shine

Konrad Hurrell is one of the best attacking weapons in the game but is barely being unleashed. In last week's match against Manly, he created havoc with some runs towards the end but it was too little, too late. While a lot depends on the team being on the front foot, more can be done to give the 103kg powerhouse time and space. At full speed, he is near impossible to stop but 'the Nugget' is getting few chances to shine.

2. Maximise Mateo and Matulino

Neither Feleti Mateo nor Ben Matulino are playing the minutes they could, and probably should. Matulino is one of the NRL's best props with a considerable all-round skill set but being under-used (just 40 minutes in each of the last two games). Mateo, as the pack's biggest attacking threat, also needs to be more involved.

3. Force repeat sets

The continued inability to build pressure from solid fifth tackle plays (and ideally repeat sets) has been one of the most damaging factors in the recent Warriors flat patch. Last play options have been a weakness all year, which was understandable with a new halves combination amid other changes at the club. Not much has improved in that area, with strategic options limited and execution poor. It means opposition teams get out of jail far too easily and regularly.

4. Stand up, Shaun Johnson

Like most of the Warriors, Shaun Johnson has had a mixed year. It's probably what you would expect from a relatively inexperienced 22-year-old but we all expect more, especially after the brilliant start to his NRL career in late 2011. It's not easy for Johnson - he is charged with providing the 'flash and dash' as well as guiding the team around the park. However, true 80-minute performances from him, and a willingness to take the high percentage option, are imperative to success in the coming weeks.

5. More set plays

The first try against Manly last weekend was hopefully a glance to the future. It was a beautifully constructed and executed set play from a scrum, with Manu Vatuvei chiming into the backline from the opposite wing to set up Ngani Laumape after several decoys. Many other teams have a series of plays as part of their repertoire, especially from scrums and penalties, and it needs to be something the Warriors bring into their game more in the next month.

- Herald on Sunday

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