NRL: Warriors focus on NRL title

By Michael Brown

Warriors coach Matthew Elliott. Photo / Greg Bowker
Warriors coach Matthew Elliott. Photo / Greg Bowker

With most league interest focused on next weekend's Auckland Nines, it's easy to forget the Warriors, like all clubs, are preparing for an assault on a more prestigious prize.

The Warriors begin their NRL pre-season campaign in earnest tomorrow when they take on Gold Coast at North Harbour Stadium. They have named a side with a smattering of first-grade regulars headed by centre Konrad Hurrell, Suaia Matagi, Ngani Laumape and Dominique Peyroux as well as dose of youngsters and fringe players as they look to juggle their personnel with a busy fortnight.

The Warriors take on Wigan in Hamilton on Wednesday and round out against the Broncos in Dunedin on February 23. They open their NRL campaign against the Eels on March 9.

"We have a lot of football in front of us in the space of eight days with the trials against the Titans and Wigan as well as the nines so it's a bit of a jigsaw puzzle putting all our sides together," Warriors coach Matt Elliott said.

"Our priority is that Brisbane trial in Dunedin and we will approach that with our best team. We have guys who played a lot of footy last year. I obviously want to start the season really positively but I also need to manage them. If I start really whacking into guys like Manu [Vatuvei], Simon [Mannering], Thomas [Leuluai] and Shaun [Johnson] now they will be a spent force halfway through the year."

It has allowed Elliott to look a lot more closely at a number of youngsters and fringe players who have been training fulltime with the first-grade squad and he's encouraged by what he's seen.

The Warriors coach is in a much better place to assess his side after 12 months in the job and has approached pre-season training much differently. It can only be hoped it translates to better success in the first half of the year.

They won only two of their first 10 matches which had a significant bearing on their inability to make the top eight. They then went on a run of seven wins in eight games and looked destined for a place in the playoffs before running out of steam at the end of the season.

"Everything is different this year," Elliott said. "The guys have come back in great shape.

"I understand the group better and they understand me better so we have a clearer understanding of how we work best. My perception was based around operating in another culture. The differences aren't massive but they are different.

"We have been far more settled and there's a lot more trust. I was the fourth head coach in 12 months. Regardless of who came in, there was going to be a fairly extended sizing up period. The feel around the place is very different."

The Titans will bring a strong squad for tomorrow's game.

- APNZ

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