The Warriors have taken the longer road to the NRL preliminary final but coach Andrew Webster believes it is a blessing in disguise.
There is always debate during the NRL finals about the merits of having the week off and Brisbane and Penrith are set up well after getting the bye, following their opening weekend victories.
The Warriors’ route has been more perilous via the elimination game against the Newcastle Knights, after the 32-6 humbling in Penrith, but it may have been just what the team required.
“It’s whatever you need at that time for your club,” said Webster. “And for us, what we needed was to go there and have a dress rehearsal about finals footy.
“[If we] had got it all perfect week one I don’t think we would have learned as many lessons. Or if we put everything into it and we’re unbelievable and then still got beaten we [don’t] feel as good. So the way it’s gone for us has been absolutely perfect.
“Learn the lessons, calm down a bit, get our game back on, understand what finals footy looks like. Now we’ve got momentum, now we understand what it looks like.”
It comes as the Warriors named an unchanged side on Tuesday to face the Broncos this weekend.
While the Penrith experience seemed bleak at the time, it was a timely reminder about the realities of playoff football, after the team had stumbled across the last six weeks of the regular season.
They faced pressure and intensity on a completely new level as Penrith scored five tries and could have had several more but for some desperate defence.
“I’m glad it’s panned out exactly the way it has,” said Webster.
It’s a key reason why the Warriors will stay grounded, despite the remarkable performance against the Knights. It was one of the biggest nights in New Zealand league history – with an incredible atmosphere and an equally big reaction to the game – but they won’t be getting carried away.
“We learned so much from week one,” said Webster. “That we need to be more relaxed in our preparation, not as ferocious in our mentality, confident in ourselves, realising what we do so well. [It] won’t hurt to ride the wave a little bit this week. But we’ve been consistent with the fact that we learned lessons from the weekend even though it was good. We need to pick things up and be better.”
Even though Saturday felt like a peak – arguably their best performance of the season – Webster has no doubts they can rise again.
They’ll be helped by a fit Shaun Johnson, who has recovered well from Saturday’s game. He didn’t train on Tuesday, only walking through some plays with the rest of the team. The 33-year-old is tracking well though after the calf strain that had him in major doubt for last Saturday.
“Shaun was never going to train, as you can imagine, we are not going to put ourselves at risk with that one,” said Webster. “We could probably do more but we are not going to risk it. We need to get to the starting line and make sure everyone is ready to go.”
It looms as a more straightforward preparation this week, with less doubt about Johnson’s participation. Webster is also confident about Marata Niukore (knee) and Mitch Barnett, who both sat out most of Tuesday’s session.
“No mind games, they’ll be fine,” said Webster.
Brisbane will be short-priced favourites on Saturday. Their team is stacked with representative players and they have improved across the season, as shown by the comprehensive 26-0 win over the Storm in the qualifying playoff. But the Warriors are not intimidated.
“I don’t think it’s daunting - daunting is you’re scared of it,” said Webster. “We are not daunted by it at all. We respect whoever we play. We respect them. We know they’re a good side but we don’t fear them. Certainly not.”
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. He has also reported on the Warriors and NRL for more than a decade.