NRL: Elliott satisfied with way Warriors are shaping up

By Michael Brown

Sam Tomkins has impressed in pre-season action. Photo / Greg Bowker
Sam Tomkins has impressed in pre-season action. Photo / Greg Bowker

It's rare for a coach to admit he's happy with where his side sits just two weeks out from a new season but it's a place Warriors coach Matt Elliott occupies heading into a new NRL campaign.

Elliott is a reasonably sanguine individual anyway but he's liked what he's seen in this year's pre-season campaign. It's an attitude based on a decent pre-season, a smallish injury list, fitter players and more than 12 months' experience at Mt Smart Stadium.

"We are close enough to where we want to be," Elliott said on the back of his side's impressive 48-4 defeat of the Broncos in Sunday's final pre-season game. "But the next two weeks are critical for us. We need to cover more territory."

This time last year, Elliott was covering a lot more ground as he introduced systems and structures he thought, or hoped, would work. He was heading into his first season with the club and didn't have a complete understanding of how the team, club and individuals operated.

He was also taking over a side on an eight-game losing streak - which soon turned to 11 - and the mental scars of that ran deep.

As with most clubs heading into a new campaign, there's a sense of optimism around the Warriors. But long-suffering fans have been down this road many times before only to be disappointed.

Apart from the dismantling of Brisbane, the Warriors also performed well at the Auckland Nines and appear to have recruited well in Sam Tomkins, Jayson Bukuya and Chad Townsend which is creating depth and options.

Elliott has said he will not be swayed by reputation when it comes to selecting his side to face the Eels in their season-opener next Sunday but there seem to be only a couple of positions up for grabs.

It's unlikely Thomas Leuluai will be risked until he can prove his groin injury has settled, meaning Townsend will start at five-eighth, and Kevin Locke is still struggling with a knee injury.

The right wing was a problem area for the Warriors last season and it's still open heading into this campaign. David Fusitua looks promising and could get the nod over Ngani Laumape and Glen Fisiiahi.

The other vacancy is probably in the back row after Elijah Taylor's switch to the Panthers. Captain Simon Mannering looms as a good option, and played there at times at last year's World Cup, but Elliott seems to prefer him in the second row and he lined up on the left edge against the Broncos with Bukuya on the right.

That could see Ben Henry starting in the No13 jersey with Feleti Mateo or Sione Lousi providing impact off the bench.

Likely lineup

Possible Warriors side to play the Eels in Sydney on March 9: Sam Tomkins, David Fusitua, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Jacob Lillyman, Simon Mannering, Jayson Bukuya, Ben Henry. Interchange: Ben Matulino, Suaia Matagi, Feleti Mateo, Tuimoala Lolohea.

- APNZ

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