By Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
They need to win both remaining games and even then they’re
not guaranteed of a top eight spot but Warriors five-eighth Thomas Leuluai
believes the Kiwi outfit can not only make the finals but cause plenty of
damage once they get there.
Despite sitting 11th on the NRL ladder as one of
five sides locked on 24 competition points and boasting a terrible
for-and-against record the Warriors have the softest draw of all those sides
fighting for a finals berth with a home game against troubled Canberra this
weekend and a trip to see the Dragons to come.
Provided Newcastle and North Queensland don’t both win their
remaining games, the Warriors are highly likely to sneak into the top eight
should they score consecutive victories and Leuluai is adamant they can
replicate their stunning run through the 2011 finals series.
“You just have to look at our results this year – we’ve
beaten most of the top four teams and if we get in there we have the ability to
do that again,” Leuluai said, pointing to impressive home wins over the
Roosters, Storm and Sea Eagles as evidence of what they are capable of.
“Obviously we have a lot of improvement to go to get back to
that level and we have to get in there first but I think we are a very good
“We need to win two games. We’ve shown that when we play for
each other we can beat the top teams so we are confident but we know we need to
improve in a lot of areas as well. We’ve gone backwards again the past few
weeks but when we get it right we’ve always been confident in what we can do.”
The Warriors have endured a season of peaks and troughs that
saw them crash to an embarrassing 40-10 opening round loss to Parramatta and
record just two wins from their opening 10 matches before embarking on a run of
seven wins from eight.
They then crashed to three consecutive losses before
bouncing back with a narrow win over the Gold Coast last week. Leuluai said it
was time the Warriors took ownership of their season.
“We’ve known for a while where we sit and we knew last week
that we had to win all of our games,” he said. “We were really disappointed a
couple of weeks ago when we played Penrith, we felt that we should have won
that game but we didn’t really show up. Last week was pretty good but I think
we need to still be a lot better.
“We’ve been struggling a bit, lacking some energy and
enthusiasm but it was good to get back in the winners’ circle.”
Leuluai was also quick to reject suggestions that
inconsistency is endemic of the Warriors, putting their slow start to the
season down to the huge changes at the club which includes his return to the
NRL for the first time since originally leaving the club for England way back
“At the start it was all very new for a lot of people with
Matty (Elliott) coming in so late,” he said. “We had new systems and a whole
new way of playing.
“It was all new for me too, new everything really – a new
club, new competition, new coach – all those things coming together made it a
bit tough for me at the start and it took me a while to get into it.
“I knew I was a bit slow to start but I felt that after
about a month and a bit I worked out my role in the team and things started to
work for me which is probably a lot like the team really.
“Our performances at the start of the year weren’t great but
as we got a bit of cohesion we started to play some good football.”
The Warriors will start firm favourites to beat a Raiders
side that has gone through incredible turmoil over the past fortnight with
coach David Furner sacked, start centre Blake Ferguson going AWOL and winger
Sandor Earl being exposed for drug use and trafficking.
But Leuluai said he expected them to be fired up for a big
performance this week.
“We expect them to be fired up – that’s the only way we can
approach it,” he said. “A bit of adversity brings teams together and they’ve
had plenty of that so I think they will come to play. They’re in the same
situation as us too. They need to win to keep their season alive so it will be
a testing game. I think what has happened will bring them all together and
really make them play for each other.
“All we can do though is focus on what we need to do. One thing
we talked about this week is that it’s the Old Boys game for us at the club so
all the Old Boys will be there and we don’t want to disappoint in front of
them. It’s a really big game for us.”