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

League: Enforcer in pack who can stand and deliver a must

Sam Rapira at a New Zealand Warriors NRL training session at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Sam Rapira at a New Zealand Warriors NRL training session at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The Warriors need to find a more dominating presence up front from somewhere. And it needs to be sooner rather than later.

On the evidence of the first three rounds of the NRL in 2017, the Auckland side lack a point of difference in the pack. Call it what you want; in the old parlance, an enforcer, someone with a bit of mongrel, or simply a player with the size and aggression to stamp their authority on the forward battle.

Most other NRL sides have that kind of player. Think of Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen at the Sharks, or Jason Taumalolo at the Cowboys. There are two or three in the Raiders pack, and James Tamou at Penrith is a stand and deliver-type player. Jesse Bromwich has it all for the Storm - size, power, strength and an offload - but Jordan McLean showed his attributes in Melbourne's 26-10 win at Mt Smart, regularly asking questions the Warriors struggled to answer, with 115 metres from just 12 carries.

Friday night's match in Dunedin provided another illustration. Lock David Klemmer was immense for the Bulldogs, with nearly 200 running metres, while Sam Kasiano strained an already tired Warriors defence to the limit in the second half.

There were mitigating factors, as the Warriors' execution let them down, but they were also unable to make the most of sustained periods of possession and territory.

Something needs to change in the Warriors pack. Maybe someone will emerge.

Albert Vete has the size and Sam Lisone the aggression. Ben Matulino could yet come back from injury and finally fully realise his potential, and youngster Toaf Sipley appeals as a damaging force on attack.

"There is enough there to provide a hard edge," said Warriors coach Stephen Kearney. "Ben Matulino will come back into the frame and I'm comfortable that in amongst the group of 'tights' that we have, we have seven or eight guys that are going to do the enforcing."

The last time the Warriors had a truly dominant set of forwards was in 2011, when they were able to regularly go toe-to-toe with the top sides up front. There was no one individual who stood out but Sam Rapira, Jacob Lillyman, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino were the perfect mix as a prop rotation, each with differing strengths. Behind them, the mercurial Feleti Mateo was a good foil to Simon Mannering and Micheal Luck, and the mix worked.

"Collectively, if our middle group are doing their jobs and getting the team forward, we have a group able to get the job done for us," said Kearney. "That is the dynamic of our group and I'm very pleased with who we've got. Can they be better? Yes, of course they can, but that is the path we're on."

Prop Charlie Gubb dismissed the notion the Warriors need an enforcer, or some added mongrel.

"I'm not sure," said Gubb, "I think that is a bit of a myth.

"Who is an enforcer? I don't think anyone in the NRL is scared of anyone else.

"People call someone an enforcer but really it's just a person. It's probably more about pack mentality.

"When Ben Matulino is back, I would have Benny over anyone [as a pack leader]. We have the right ingredients here ... we just have to get the mix right."

- NZ Herald

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