By Ben Blaschke
For Warriors captain Simon Mannering, Saturday night’s clash with Canterbury in Wellington is just another game. But he fears that might not be the case for the Bulldogs.
The return from long-tern injury of hulking prop Sam Kasiano means that Des Hasler’s men are not only closing in on full strength but have five Kiwis in their 17-man squad with Mannering tipping they will all be fired up for a huge performance in front of their ‘home’ crowd.
“I think it will be a game that they’ve penciled into the diary,” Mannering told NRL.com as the Warriors look to make it two wins in a row for the first time since Round 18 last year. “They get a chance to play in their home country and will probably have a lot of family down to see them. I’m sure they will get a lot of support down in Wellington also.
“To be honest, it doesn’t really change anything from our perspective. It’s always good playing against those guys. They are key players for the Bulldogs so I guess the quieter we can keep them, the better although personally it doesn’t add any extra to the game for us.
“But all those Kiwi boys (in the Bulldogs team) they’ll definitely be pumped up for this one.”
Mannering knows better than most the dangers that Canterbury’s Kiwi connection – Kasiano, Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood, Dene Halatau and Sam Perrett – pose. As New Zealand captain and their most-capped current player, he has played alongside all of them and knows that the Warriors must limit the impact of those big men in the middle if they are any chance of an upset.
“With having Sam Kasiano back as well as James Graham, a lot of good things come off the back of them. I think it’s the same with every team you come across, you’ve got to do a job in the middle first before you worry about the other guys out wide and it’s no different against the Bulldogs – more so with them having those key guys back in the team.
“That was one of their better games last week. They got a couple of guys back from injury and put 40 points on the Tigers so I’m sure they took a lot of confidence from that and will be looking forward to this one down in Wellington.”
While Canterbury certainly appear to be on the improve, the Warriors can take heart too from last week’s win over the Gold Coast – just their second from 16 games dating back to last season.
“There was a lot of good that we can take out of it,” Mannering agreed. “We improved in some areas that we were trying to improve on during the week which was good. To improve on stuff at training and then be able to apply it in the game and do it well is good for the confidence. It would be nice to not concede so many points, which is a bit of a concern though. We’ve been conceding a few too many tries.”
Still, Mannering is confident that the Warriors are on the right track under new coach Matt Elliott. Despite some early wobbles – namely a 40-10 loss to Parramatta in Round 1 and a 0-3 start to the season before knocking over North Queensland in Round 4 – the Kiwi club has shown some fight in recent weeks with narrow losses to Souths, Canberra and Melbourne before a 25-24 win over the Titans.
“I guess it has been up and down from last season and the start of this one,” he said. “The consistency isn’t quite there yet but I feel that in the past four games we’ve been playing better footy.
“I still think we’ve been conceding too many tries and if we want to win those close games we’ll have to cut out some of those points but the way things are off the field around the club I feel that we’re doing the right things. Hopefully that will start to show on the field and we can string a few together.
“Obviously it doesn’t help when you get into that habit of losing games. Sometimes you get into a bit of a rut and the harder you try, the less things come off. You feel like you’re hitting your head against a wall but we’ve improved on a lot of things at training.
“For us to get that win last weekend, while it wasn’t perfect we still got the two points. We can’t be happy with the whole performance but if we keep working on those things at training, our performances are getting better each week and we’re not taking backward steps the results will take care of themselves.”