Michael Burgess

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

NRL: Storm victory tipping point for Warriors

Sam Tomkins delivered against the Storm on Friday night in his best display for the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Tomkins delivered against the Storm on Friday night in his best display for the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images

Almost a third of the way into the season and maybe the Warriors are ready to launch.

It's important not to get carried away — the Warriors have a history of defying expectations, both high and low — but Friday night's win over the Storm could be a turning point for the Auckland club in 2014.

The two NRL points are vitally important but it is more than that.

Friday's game was by far their most complete performance of the year, with subtle echoes of the effort at the same ground in the 2011 preliminary final. Melbourne may be a touch off their best, but they are still a great team.

The Storm dominated the first 20 minutes after halftime, with some of the most flowing attacking play they have produced this year, but the Warriors didn't flinch, not conceding a single point in the final 36 minutes. Coming into the match the Warriors had the worst defensive record in the competition but they proved to themselves and their fans that they can tackle when it counts.

"When you get the attitude right and the desire right that is the most critical part to being a good defensive team," said coach Andrew McFadden. "They are realising that it works. We could have finished it [off] a little better, but it was just pure courage that got us over the line in the end."

Captain Simon Mannering said his team would take confidence form the win. "It was probably our most complete performance [this year] and [it was] one of the toughest games I have played in for a while."

Aside from the new found defensive resilience, there are several other reasons why this match may come to be seen as a stepping stone.

The coach's cap fits

McFadden, who carries the nickname 'Cappy', desperately needed this win for his own self belief. It was his first victory as a head coach in the NRL and what a way to do it, beating the Storm on their own patch.

Remember it took Matt Elliott a decade to beat a Craig Bellamy-coached side — McFadden has done it at his first attempt. Another loss, with a two-week break before a tricky game at Eden Park against the Raiders and the pressure would have been immense. McFadden has been quick to put his stamp on the side with some inspired selections and deserved to be rewarded.

The greenhorns thrive

In the second half the Warriors edge defenders were David Fusitua, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell and Ngani Laumape. Four youngsters with fewer than 100 NRL games among them. But they are the future. Henry needs to stay at centre - he is just as solid as Dane Nielsen on defence and has much more on attack - while Laumape (15 runs, 129 metres) continues to show maturity beyond his years.

Fusitua was outstanding and has immense potential while Hurrell (93m from just nine runs, three tackle breaks) was a constant menace. He is one of top attacking weapons across the NRL and needs to be utilised. Sure, his defensive positioning remains a work in progress but his place to learn is the NRL.

Tomkins delivers

It was the best display so far from the England fullback. He was constantly involved, a genuine third play-making option, and his long and short kicking was well placed. The imminent return of Kevin Locke should lift his play even more.

The pack gets back up

The Warriors forwards have held their own in most matches this year, only to be let down by poor execution and defence by the backs.

The pack was again superb on Friday, highlighted by Jacob Lillyman (17 carries for 153m, 23 tackles), Simon Mannering (85m, 29 tackles) and Jayson Bukuya (75m, 31 tackles), which laid the platform which the backs took advantage of.

Townsend turns up

In the absence of Thomas Leuluai, Chad Townsend deputised with aplomb. He still has a lot to learn but it was a gutsy effort from the former Cronulla Shark (25 tackles, 61m).

- Herald on Sunday

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