Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: A day with the Warriors

Warriors iron man Simon Mannering is heading for the team dinner. He's hobbling but in better shape than Thomas Leuluai who is wondering how he will stay awake until midnight to guard against his concussion.

Mannering jabs a thumbs up across the dressing room after game 248 of his one-club career as a weary Leuluai walks slowly out to his ride home.

There's damage but Sunday saw the Warriors win three in a row and that's golden cargo as they push inside the top eight in the NRL.

They are gathering belief and watching the rewards of that unity.

Posters of club legends look down on the players from one dressing room wall.

Mannering's image carries a message about being grounded, Stacey Jones wants passion, Micheal Luck urges courage, Ruben Wiki is uncompromising and Manu Vatuvei is selfless.
That bundle of messages is mixed into instructions from coach Andrew McFadden before the game.

His work is done earlier in the week and match day is an extended session of patience for the Warriors staff as they reinforce messages and deliver rallying reminders as players go about their preparation. About 45 minutes before kickoff, McFadden gives his final instruction.

"Let's finish all our defensive sets," he tells the room. "They're very reliant on their big fellas to do the ball-playing for them so make sure we pressure from marker.

"We have to get forward and make sure we make our tackles. As soon as we flip around and get the ball back, we need that co-ordination from our edges.

"It doesn't matter when we see holes - if it is the first 30 seconds, if you see numbers, you take it. That's us, that's our style. We kick-chase, we keep the pressure on, we keep putting it on and they'll crack.

"We make an error, no problem, react, all game, let's go."

The Warriors head out of the sheds for their 20-minute warm-up on Mt Smart before a couple of stiff messages from captain Ryan Hoffman.

Early injuries to Albert Vete and Leuluai and 10 minutes in the bin for wing Ken Maumalo force them to juggle their combinations and they return for the halftime break trailing 4-2.

McFadden is very encouraged.

"Well done. I thought you handled that really well," he tells them. "Nothing comes through our defence, OK? Secondly, [Jared Waerea-]Hargreaves is the one chancing his arm with offloads so you have to stay up on that a bit.

"Lastly, and this is the most important thing, we have to tie them down from our kick-chase. Play one is the most important play of the set because, if you handle that, you will handle [Shaun] Kenny-Dowall and the rest of the outside backs."

Hoffman chips in with instructions about stopping the Roosters' offloads and their continuity.

There had to be adjustments on attack, especially on the right edge, says McFadden. The officials would penalise the Roosters for holding down and gaps would open up on the inside.

"Make them work really hard and you will get the benefit at the end of the game. This is a great chance for us boys. We've had some adversity we've had to handle, now we commit to this half."

Players break into their mini-groups to talk through the plan as Bodene Thompson has his legs stretched and Shaun Johnson keeps loose on the exercycle.

He has a quiet game and does not goalkick because of a leg strain, although he manages a late dance for a try against tiring defenders before the Roosters answer with a late converted try to leave a pulsating final five minutes.

The Warriors negotiate that trauma and return to a jubilant changing room filling with life members, staff and supporters like the Mad Butcher.

"Make no mistake, that was the best win we have had," McFadden tells the group. "Things didn't go our way and we had to deal with a fair bit of adversity and players like Nathaniel Roache did a really good job for the team.

"Forwards: the challenge this week was to get over them. Tick, you did a great job on them. That's three in a row. We speak about each game being different and you never know when it is going to be like that but you find a way, don't you?

"That's what's most important about that win. We found a way and found a tough way. That's three games when we have kept teams under 20 as well.

"It shows we are growing in resilience as well. It's a short turnaround this week. Let's look after ourselves and let's get better. And let's have the team song."

- NZ Herald

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