NRL: Troubling start for Warriors continues

By Michael Brown

Warriors' Sam Tomkins is dejected. Round two Telstra Premiership NRL match, Vodafone Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons, Eden Park, Auckland. Photo: photosport.co.nz
Warriors' Sam Tomkins is dejected. Round two Telstra Premiership NRL match, Vodafone Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons, Eden Park, Auckland. Photo: photosport.co.nz

It usually takes a lot for a coach to admit their faith in their side is being tested but it's what the Warriors' poor start to the season has already done to Matt Elliott.

He is normally a coach who's full of optimism, full of conviction, but Elliott looked crestfallen after watching his side fall to a disappointing 31-12 defeat to the Dragons at Eden Park on Saturday. What made it even more difficult to accept was that they reproduced many of the failings from the previous week when they went down limply to the Eels 36-16.

Both results came against teams who were among the favourites for the wooden spoon and, ominously, the Eels leaked 50 points against the Roosters on Saturday night.

"Our will to compete in the game at the moment could be questioned,'' Elliott said. "I know we're a much better team than that. I have a heap of belief in the guys but it's certainly being tested at the moment.''

The biggest issue is around the side's mentality. Despite having five months to think about, to prepare, for the opening game of the season, they lacked intensity against the Eels. And, despite a week of introspection, they then couldn't find the spark to match it with the Dragons on Saturday.

The Warriors attacked the Dragons' line for long periods in the second half but the visitors refused to yield. They wouldn't be broken.

In contrast, the Warriors leaked 25 second-half points, including two tries in three minutes immediately after halftime.

The coach is taking a lot of heat after yet-another slow start, and he's certainly accountable, but the underperforming players are equally culpable.

Elliott knows a lot more about them after 12 months in the job and spent considerable time on preparing them mentally in the off-season in the hope of starting well.

"We have done a lot of work on that,'' Elliott said. ``We really have - from a fair distance out, believe it or not, on these first six games being a real key for us. This was our first home game. Last week was a disappointment and this one matches that.

"We need to find a way. There's something that collectively, starting with me, we're not doing right. We have evidence from the first two weeks. I don't want to use the [line that the] Warriors are notoriously slow starters. That's just an excuse. It's not a reason for what we are doing.''

The biggest improvement needs to come in defence. They have set the ambitious target of being the best defensive side in the competition but that seems fanciful two weeks into the season.

They didn't miss as many tackles as last weekend but the Dragons controlled the ruck speed which meant they controlled long periods of the match and the Warriors attack also looked static.

"I felt we were more in it than the first game but we just didn't have that fight after halftime, which is disappointing,'' captain Simon Mannering said. "We have to do something collectively. You can sit in a room and talk as much as you like but it matters what you do out on the field. It's just frustrating. We are doing the right things in training but we are just not applying those things on the field.''

The Warriors take on the Cowboys in Townsville next Saturday night and, although it's still early in the season, it looms as a match of critical importance.

- APNZ

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