League: Defensive fail galls Elliott

By Michael Brown

Warriors coach makes just two changes to face Dragons but says some lucky to stay.

Ben Henry comes on to the bench for Sione Lousi on Saturday at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Henry comes on to the bench for Sione Lousi on Saturday at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors have some lofty goals, like all teams in the NRL, and one of them is to be the best defensive team in the competition.

That quest didn't start well last weekend when the Eels ran over and around them in a decisive 36-16 win, but history shows teams who defend well enjoy successful campaigns.

Having all the attacking frills is great, but teams can't build pressure if they don't stop points being scored.

The Warriors conceded 554 points last year, at an average of 23 points a game. The Roosters had the best defence, conceding only 325 points, and all top eight sides let in under 465 points.

The Warriors were at their best defensively in 2011, when they conceded 393 points. It was no coincidence they also went on to play in the grand final.

Matt Elliott's side spent considerable time on their defence in the off-season, which made last weekend's effort so galling, and he expects an immediate response on Saturday when they take on the Dragons at Eden Park.

Elliott reacted by making two changes this week - Jerome Ropati in for Carlos Tuimavave at centre and Ben Henry comes on to the bench for Sione Lousi, who has a family bereavement - but the coach said he was tempted to make others.

"There are some people who are lucky," he said.

Henry is a renowned workhorse and defender. In his seven games last season before he suffered a serious knee injury he averaged 28 tackles a game, which was third highest behind Nathan Friend (47.1) and Simon Mannering (33).

Even though Henry wasn't involved in the Eels game, it was a painful experience.

"It was pretty frustrating," he said. "I was really feeling for the boys and you really want to go out and help.

"We need to be defensively minded. Our aim is to be the best defensive team in the NRL and that's what we are striving to do. There are steps to do that. Week by week we have to get better."

Henry didn't think he would be involved as early as round two as he returned from knee surgery. Last week's match for the reserve grade side was his first in nine months.

"It was my first game last week and that was about blowing the cobwebs out and getting the rust off the hands. When Matt came up to me [and said I was playing] I was surprised but it's a privilege to play for the Warriors.

"[The injury meant] I could step back and appreciate what I do, coming to training and doing this for a living. It's great. I just want to play like I appreciate it."

Ropati is at a similar stage in his career, given he's played only 15 games over the past three years because of a series of injuries, and he is grateful to the club for extending his contract to a 12th season.

His presence on the troublesome right edge should improve communication and organisation but Ropati isn't promising miracles.

"I'm not the guy to save the right edge," he said. "It's a collective effort.

"I have a challenge on my hands. I have to make sure my game is good as well. I can't really worry about everyone else otherwise I won't be playing at the standards I want to."

- APNZ

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