Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: 'Here we go again' for Warriors

Here we go again.

As much as the Warriors have tried avoid the pressure and hype heading into the NRL Nines, reality will bite at around 1pm tomorrow.

When the Warriors take the field against Manly in their first game of the tournament, all the expectation and hope of a large hometown crowd will come flooding back.

On the same day that Guns N' Roses are in Auckland, there will also be an `Appetite for Destruction' around Eden Park, as more than 30,000 fans hope that the Nines trophy can finally be won by the Warriors.

Sure, everybody knows that performance in the festival tournament is basically irrelevant in the context of the NRL season. That was proven again last year, when the Warriors reached the final of the Nines then flopped badly at the start of their NRL campaign, losing four of their first six games.

But somehow, that all gets forgotten around this time every year, as Warriors' success in the Nines becomes paramount.

Their progress also tends to make or break the atmosphere at the event; in 2015 half the crowd left by mid-afternoon on the Sunday, as the Warriors exited at the quarter final stage whereas in 2014 and 2016 the carnival continued until early evening on the second day.

This weekend might also be the Warriors' penultimate chance to win the event on home soil, with Auckland's five year hosting deal expiring in 2018. The NRL have said all the right things about their great relationship with ATEED, and their respect for Duco's work in getting the event underway, but there is a suspicion that the deep pockets of the state governments across the Tasman might prevail.

And as much as the Warriors have tried to downplay their emphasis on the Nines this year, a strong performance will give some momentum heading into the 2017 season.

"One thing Mooks (Kearney) has made clear is that the focus is definitely on the trial games and the start of our season," said Shaun Johnson. "[But] as players it's something we really look forward to and enjoy. We get to challenge themselves against the best [and] hopefully we can get the better of them."

Johnson will play reduced minutes this year, and it wouldn't surprise if he missed an entire game or two. But that will give other players a chance to shine, as happened with Solomone Kata in 2015 and Bevan French (Eels) last year.

"It's proven to be a launching pad," said Johnson. "It probably gives them an insight into that elite level; the crowd the atmosphere, the environment."

The Warriors focused on offloading and second phase play in 2014, but took a more structured approach last year. Johnson gave no clues about this year's approach.

"In terms of the way we are going to play - who knows," said Johnson. "We will adapt with whoever we have in front of us. I've learnt that every year it changes. It's a good sign if we are able to learn on the run and adapt, playing different ways, defending differently. "

The Warriors are one of the favourites at the bookmakers this weekend, alongside the Cowboys (with Johnathan Thurston), Benji Marshall's Broncos and the Jarryd Hayne led Titans.

"We'll give it a good shake," said captain Ruben Wiki. "We want to do well."

- NZ Herald

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