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

NRL: Strain takes toll on besieged worriers

Anxiety shows in performance while many in team shut out social media
Jacob Lillyman says the results have been disappointing but he's confident the team will shake it off on Monday.Picture / Getty Images
Jacob Lillyman says the results have been disappointing but he's confident the team will shake it off on Monday.Picture / Getty Images

The Warriors are under siege and salvation won't come until Monday at the earliest.

No matter how the club tries to couch the losing streak, the reality is they haven't won an NRL game since July last year.

That's a long time for a professional sports organisation and the strain is starting to show, on and off the field.

Not many have a spring in their step around Mt Smart, and with every week the anxiety level increases more.

It's the kind of anxiety that saw them falter in the final stages against the Storm last Sunday, or make two basic errors to blow a late comeback against the Tigers in round one.

Instead of playing instinctively and with confidence, the Warriors appear to have fear in their hearts; fear of making a mistake, fear of blowing an opportunity, fear of missing a tackle and fear of another loss. It's a downward spiral they've been caught in since round 19 last year, though there have been signs of improvement in the last two weeks.

"We are just a bit off," admitted Jacob Lillyman.

"Against the Storm we were good for 70-odd minutes and then we hit the lead and went away from what was working. Our kick-chase, our aggression, good line speed ... we went away from that and they capitalised on it."

Lillyman is one of the most frank players at the club, never afraid to front up and he was there again yesterday.

"The biggest thing is the disappointment," said Lillyman.

"We know what we are capable of ... it's really disappointing to see how we have started the year. I'm got every confidence we are going to turn things around and make something of this season.

"I guess what's happening reflects where we are as a team -- we are just lacking polish," added Lillyman. "Everybody is talking about the new combinations but they do need a few games together. We are certainly improving and hopefully we will get that monkey off the back on Monday."

Pressure builds in different ways. Fellow prop Ben Matulino, along with some other teammates, have avoided social media and newspapers as they seek to maintain a narrow focus.

"I deleted all my social media after the first game [against the Tigers]," said Matulino. "I have just kept my Instagram, which you can't really follow league on. There is a lot of noise on the outside but it only matters what is happening on the inside. I've kept far away from the league world."

Media hermit or not, Matulino could be one of the keys to a Warriors' revival. He was one of the best on the field against the Storm, carrying for 124m (more than any other Warriors forward) and regularly denting the line. But too many times he was a lone target, lacking a support runner or a teammate sniffing for an offload.

"Far too many times blokes are going one out," said Lillyman.

"There are opportunities around that and we are looking for more support runners."

- NZ Herald

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