As the pay what you like crowd fills up Mt Smart tonight, audiences either side of the Tasman will tune in to watch Simon Mannering as he pulls on his Warriors' jersey for the 300th time.

It will be recognition for the unrelenting value Mannering has been to the club since his 2005 debut as a lean teenager and a nod to the concern other sides will have about running into the Warriors in the playoffs.

Most league critics across the Ditch dismissed the Warriors as a chance for the finals and when injury cost Mannering the start to the season, they doubted his chances of reaching his milestone match this campaign. The backtracking has been extensive and you can sense the tension.

As the same observers work through possible playoff permutations, their words carry warnings about sides wanting to avoid the Warriors. The projected wooden-spooners have run into some strong form and moved from the cellar to the penthouse.


They bring a potent combination of unpredictable danger and the unflinching hard work which is the hallmark of Mannering's time with the club. His milestone match coincides with the Warriors' last regular season game against the Raiders and once those celebrations are done and tributes paid to his wonderful career, the club wants to find the icing through the finals.

The Raiders are on a mission to disrupt the festivities. They have missed out on the finals but can show their Aussie comrades the template to blunt the Warriors' hopes of a first NRL title and maybe soothe a little of the frustration coach Ricky Stuart has carried through another difficult campaign.

If they find the template of completed sets and few errors, their big pack will gnaw at the Warriors' resistance and open up chances for dangerous backs.

Where few pundits were concentrating on the Warriors when the season started, that focus has shifted as the competition has moved through the heart of winter. It will get even more intense after this weekend if the Warriors earn a home ground draw in the playoffs.

Ticket prices will cost more than tonight but Mt Smart will sell out again.

When the Warriors sting, the backline riches of captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, David Fusitu'a and Shaun Johnson often get a large chunk of the attention. That's understandable. They are dangerously talented athletes to match any in the NRL and that flair hogs the headlines.

However, the balance in the improved Warriors' pack is the foundation for their push to the playoffs.

They have worked hard to pair their defence to their ball-playing instincts. Experienced hooker Issac Luke has brought a consistent threat with his variety, Adam Blair adds to the reliable drive alongside Mannering while Tohu Harris has brought the dynamic punch.


In the trenches, James Gavet and Agnatius Paasi have motors to match their intent and when they need a spell there is strong backup from the pine.

As the Warriors have profited from their work, they have gathered crucial confidence about their ability to trouble any side in the NRL. To sustain that belief and to salute Mannering's remarkable career, the Warriors owe it to themselves to do the business tonight.