Warriors coach Stephen Kearney admits some of his players are still learning to foot it with the big boys of the NRL in the wake of last night's 50-10 humbling at the hands of Melbourne.
After enjoying six wins from their previous seven games the Anzac Day loss to the reigning premiers at AAMI Park revealed shortcomings in the Warriors' play and their mental approach to big matches.
Vastly experienced Melbourne captain Cameron Smith had sympathy for the Warriors but suggested they were still learning how to handle the weight of expectation following their impressive start to the season.
"The Warriors, they had a short turnaround and they had a big game last week [against the Dragons]," said Smith.
"I spoke to [Kearney] after the game, a lot of their players haven't dealt with the position they're in at the moment, being on top of the ladder, and they only lost their first game a couple of weeks ago.
"Every team is aiming up against them and it takes a lot of effort week by week to stay up for those big games, so it would have been extremely hard for them to come here tonight.
"They lost Issac Luke early, who's been their best player all year, so that didn't help."
The Storm are masters at identifying and exploiting weaknesses in their opposition and their first two tries came from clever kicks in behind the line that caught Warriors wings Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a unaware.
Fill-in halfback Mason Lino and rookie centre Anthony Gelling were also targeted by the Storm's wide ball-runners and were among those to miss crucial tackles as the home side motored to a 38-0 halftime lead.
Kearney conceded some of his players were still coming to grips with the demands and standards expected of a team occupying second spot on the premiership ladder.
"We've got a group of players that are still finding the way to be an NRL professional every week and that's a continuous thing regardless of whether you're at the top of the table or not," said Kearney.
"Our defence wasn't up to standard, which we've set ourselves a fair standard with over the last six to seven weeks and we paid a price for it and that first half."
Meanwhile, injured hooker Luke will return to Auckland today and is due to undergo scans tomorrow on a suspected knee cartilage injury.
The 30-year-old may require surgery and could face up to six weeks on the sidelines, which would potentially rule him out until the round 14 game against Manly.
Jazz Tevaga replaced Luke at dummy-half against Melbourne but has mostly featured at loose forward this season, leaving Kearney to consider calling on either Sam Cook or Titans recruit Karl Lawton for next Saturday's home game against Wests Tigers.
Cook featured in the side's first two wins over the Rabbitohs and Titans but has recently been playing halfback for the club's Intrust Super Premiership side with Lawton featuring at hooker.
ISP bench hooker Manaia Cherrington is not available for NRL selection given that he sits outside the Warriors top squad of 30 players.
"Sam Cook's played there so we've got a couple of options," said Kearney.
On the positive side, the Warriors will welcome back injured halfback Shaun Johnson (groin), second-rower Tohu Harris (concussion) and centre Solomone Kata (ankle) for the match at Mt Smart Stadium.
Kearney revealed first-choice front-rower James Gavet could also return from a hamstring injury that has kept him out over the past month, while outside back recruit Gerard Beale is due to return in round 10 after a lengthy recovery from a broken leg suffered in the Kiwis' World Cup match against Samoa.
"James is a chance of playing [against the Wests Tigers]. He might play this weekend for the ISP team to see where he's at. We'll just see how he goes."
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