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

NRL: Warriors must add spice to the defensive recipe

Conceding an average of more than 25 points a match in NRL not good enough at top level
Roosters forward Eloni Vunakece and his magnificent head of hair is tackled by the Warriors defence. Photo / Getty
Roosters forward Eloni Vunakece and his magnificent head of hair is tackled by the Warriors defence. Photo / Getty

The results are coming -- now the Warriors need to refine their winning recipe.

The Auckland team have turned a corner over the past two weeks but are nowhere near the end of the road with their defensive game.

The Warriors have conceded an average of more than 25 points a match in 2016. Statistics don't always paint the full picture but that ain't pretty.

Another porous display against a desperate Manly side tomorrow could spell trouble; their defence was patchy against the Knights and also went AWOL for periods last Sunday against the Roosters in Gosford.

That assessment might be harsh on a winning side but the Warriors need to set high standards this year.

The results in 2016 have continued a pattern; they leaked more than 24 points per game last season, 20.5 in 2014, 23 in 2013 and 25.4 in 2012.

That's been the major handbrake on any playoff ambitions as defence is the single biggest factor in any successful campaign.

Four of the last five NRL champions conceded less than 16 points per game across the regular season, with Manly (2011, 13.8) and the Roosters (2013, 13.5) particularly outstanding. The Cowboys last year were the exception (18.9 points) -- but they had Johnathan Thurston and everything was a little bit different about their campaign.

The Warriors are never going to be the most miserly team in the NRL -- it's just not in their DNA -- but they'll need to be a lot better in defence across the rest of 2016.

There have been periods of impressive defensive resilience this year, especially against the Broncos and the Storm. But too often they've released the pressure valve with mental lapses in the defensive line, or poor execution on attack.

"We need to be more consistent over the 80 minutes," said Warriors coach Andrew McFadden. "We defended really well in the first half [against the Roosters] -- they got a couple of tries from kicks but you have to cop that. What you can't cop is some of their other tries, which were a bit weak."

Last weekend, the Warriors invited the Roosters back into the match with a string of mistakes, and the Bondi side grabbed the momentum.

"We tend to do that sometimes -- we concede too many unforced errors and that puts the pressure on," added McFadden. "A lot of the teams that defend well also complete well. We have to be tidier with our execution which takes pressure off our edge."

"The attack will always be there for us," added Ben Matulino. "It's just the defence side we need to get right, get a good balance. For us, not letting in the soft tries is key; making them work for their tries."

Matulino was part of the last great defensive outfit at the club, the 2011 team that went to the grand final. They conceded just 16.4 points per match, on nine occasions holding opponents to 12 points or less.

"We had a lot of guys that kept turning up for each other," said Matulino. "I was young so I probably took it for granted about what guys like Micheal Luck did. They gelled everything together."

There's no reason the Warriors can't reach a similar level this year, which has been a constant message from defence coach Justin Morgan

"He is trying to get repetitions into us so it is nothing new," added Matulino. "But it has to become second nature. He has been hammering us in training."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 08 Dec 2016 12:08:00 Processing Time: 1796ms