David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Warriors outside backs assisting McFadden's bench plan

Centre David Fusitu'a and his fellow outside backs have been making strong carries on early tackles for the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images.
Centre David Fusitu'a and his fellow outside backs have been making strong carries on early tackles for the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images.

The Warriors have never lacked size and power but while their forwards have often been stereotyped as big men it's their current crop of large outside backs that are now dominating the opposition physically.

The efforts of front-row quartet Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino, Albert Vete and Sam Lisone are being helped by wingers Manu Vatuvei and Ken Maumalo, and centre pair David Fusitu'a and Solomone Kata, getting in to cart the ball forward on early tackles.

It's not a new tactic, with the Warriors having relied on a highly effective power game over the last few seasons, and their best performances tend to coincide with their backline finishers helping provide momentum and quick play the balls.

Their work not only provides an ideal platform for halves Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai to work off but also takes the pressure of the pack.

"That's part of our plan and our game model works," said coach Andrew McFadden.

"We've got these guys to get us going forward but there's a real coordinated approach to it as well.

"It's not just them bashing and barging. There's movement around them and that gives us more quality in their carries. It's all a part of how we play."

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When working the ball off their own line it can often take until the third or even fourth tackle before a front-rower gets a touch, and with lock Simon Mannering's tremendous work-rate they are not short on effective metre-eaters.

As a result, the front-rowers are able to get through plenty of tackling and play long minutes, which aids McFadden's somewhat hotly debated preference to carry an outside back on the interchange bench.

"I have read some stuff about the interchange but we're happy and the players are very happy with the way it's working," he said.

"We don't need the forwards on the bench. We've got enough guys there that cover the minutes.

"We want our best players on the field for longer but we do need the versatility around injuries.

"So we prioritise Ben Matulino and those guys. Even though he's coming off the bench, Ben's constantly playing bigger minutes so there's a strategy around it and we're very comfortable with it."

The limited game time given to Tui Lolohea during his well-publicised bench stint was heavily criticised and for the last two weeks Blake Ayshford has been included among the reserves as both backline insurance and back-row cover.

The Warriors were caught short out wide in their round two defeat to Brisbane when wing Manu Vatuvei was forced from the field with a rib injury. Photo / Getty Images.
The Warriors were caught short out wide in their round two defeat to Brisbane when wing Manu Vatuvei was forced from the field with a rib injury. Photo / Getty Images.

McFadden is not the only NRL coach to deviate from the four-forward bench theory, and earlier this season in the final trial against the Dragons and round two defeat to the Broncos, the Warriors were caught short out wide when injuries and concussion saw Vatuvei and Ayshford forced from the park.

"Head knocks are a big part of the game now so making sure that we've got easy cover to slot people straight into those positions is important and a lot of teams are doing that.

"Blake is very versatile. He played in the middle when he first went on (last week) and then went to the edge for a while.

"So if we were to lose an outside back it's a really easy change for us and because he's played back-row before. He's a tough guy, he's experienced and it's a role he's filling really well at the moment."

Warriors v Rabbitohs at Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday, 7.30pm

Warriors: Tuimoala Lolohea, Ken Maumalo, David Fusitua, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Jazz Tevaga, Albert Vete, Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering.

Interchange: Nathaniel Roache, Sam Lisone, Ben Matulino, Blake Ayshford, Bunty Afoa (one to be omitted).

Rabbitohs: Greg Inglis (c), Alex Johnston, Hymel Hunt, Aaron Gray, Joe Burgess, Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds, Thomas Burgess, Damien Cook, Zane Musgrove, John Sutton, Kyle Turner, Sam Burgess. Interchange: Jason Clark, Jack Gosiewski, Angus Crichton, George Burgess.

Referees: Henry Perenara, Chris James.

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