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

League: Matulino ready to face old nemesis

Ben Matulino has  tasted victory against the Sea Eagles only once,  but it was an "awesome" experience, he says. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Matulino has tasted victory against the Sea Eagles only once, but it was an "awesome" experience, he says. Photo / Getty Images

For the Warriors, there's one overriding question ahead of tonight's clash with Manly. Can they reverse an awful historical sequence against the Sea Eagles?

Across this decade, and a few years of the last, a game with Manly has usually been a date with despair. The Warriors have won just one of their past 10 matches against Manly, and only four of the past 20. No matter where - be it Mt Smart, Brookvale, the Central Coast, Western Australia, Eden Park, ANZ Stadium - or when, the club from the northern beaches always seems to prevail. They stopped the Warriors in the 2008 Preliminary final (32-6) and ended Premiership dreams in the 2011 grand final with a clinical 24-10 win. Then there was the Monday night massacre at Brookvale in 2008, a 52-6 shellacking in which both Michael Robertson and Brett Stewart scored hat-tricks, and the heartbreaker in Perth in 2012, where Manly reeled in a 22-6 deficit in the last 30 minutes.

The club that was once New Zealand's favourite Australian team - thanks to Darrell Williams, Matthew Ridge, Craig Innes, Graham Lowe, Kevin Iro et al - became the nemesis, the team the Warriors just can't beat.

Ben Matulino knows the feeling. He first faced Manly in 2008, but has only experienced victory once against the Sea Eagles. Others have similar tales of woe: Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman have only beaten Manly once, while Simon Mannering has lost 11 of 15 encounters.

"The way they play has always made them difficult," said Matulino. "They used to have a lot of tough, old dudes up the middle, and classy back rowers such as Tony Williams, Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart. They've always had a hard edge in the backs, and good halves. It's usually the complete package."

Matulino recalls his sole triumph vividly, the 18-16 nail biter in 2013.

"It was a great atmosphere," said Matulino. "We were down and they put a kick into the in-goal and Manu [Vatuvei] did well to get out, busted a few tackles. That got us going, a bit like Sol [Kata]'s run against Newcastle [in round three]. We built a lot of energy of that, and came home strong."

Vatuvei's remarkable run - where he beat four defenders in a 40m run inside his own in goal - sparked a comeback from 12-0 down, and a steamrolling Konrad Hurrell try (beating five tacklers in 10m) iced a memorable victory.

"It was awesome to finally do it," said Matulino. "It felt quite special because we had been trying for so long."

Manly are a very different side now. There's no Kieran Foran or Peta Hiku, while Watmough and Stewart are long gone. Trent Barrett has replaced Geoff Toovey as head coach, and their newly assembled roster has yet to click this year, their wins over the Sharks and the Roosters balanced out by three losses, including two at home. But their new makeshift halves combination of Dylan Walker and Apisai Koroisau impressed last week and surely their misfiring attack will click soon.

"They've always been a tough side, no matter who is in their team," said Warriors coach Andrew McFadden. "Even back when I was playing - and before that - Manly teams have had that hard edge. That is something that can intimidate teams but we got our own edge now, we are trying to build up a reputation and it is going to be a good contest."

- NZ Herald

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