Expect the unexpected – that’s what the Warriors venture across the Tasman thinking as they prepare for their clash with the in-crisis Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Friday night.
This week has been one of even further drama for the injury-depleted and down-on-confidence 12th-placed Wests Tigers, with star five-eighth and league legend Benji Marshall announcing his intention to farewell the club and leave the game altogether at the end of the 2013 season.
For Warriors ball-playing back-rower Feleti Mateo, the dramas surrounding their opponents this week make them even more unpredictable – even if he admitted, to the Warriors’ benefit, they’re somewhat “out of the loop” in New Zealand.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it – being over here you sort of stay out of the media a fair bit and I think it’s a good thing,” Mateo told NRL.com earlier this week.
“Every move that some guys make over there seems to be reported straight away and spotlighted and Benji being one of them.”
Mateo said Marshall’s team-mates would likely rally around their star playmaker, but called on the New Zealand international to put his feet up this round and go about considering his options.
“If he wants to have the week off that’d be nice and he can talk negotiations with rugby,” Mateo laughed.
“I think he’ll be a great talent in rugby – it’ll be sad for the game to lose him, he’s done so much for the game, but if he does that and he thinks that’s the best thing for him then good on him.
“I think everyone realises a rugby or rugby league career is pretty short – you need to get what you can out of it and enjoy it while you can. If Benji feels like he’s pretty much done everything in the game and he needs new challenges then good on him. I know if someone did that in our team I’d support the guy 100 per cent.”
Mateo, in fine form for the resurgent Warriors this season with five try assists and five line-break assists, said his team was expecting the Tigers’ most unpredictable football this Friday night.
“[We’re expecting] anything – that’s the way they play and the brand they’ve built,” Mateo said.
“They’re known to throw the ball around a fair bit and they’re in a bit of form just recently and it’ll be a real interesting match for us.
“Playing against the Tigers you don’t know what to expect with them – they could do anything really – and with teams like that you really need to come and play solid, stick to our game plan and don’t fall into the trap of playing like those guys. We’re going to have our hands full with these guys – we’re well aware of that – and we’ll be excited come game time.”
The Warriors, after a slow start to the season, have shown much-improved form in recent weeks to surge to 11th on the ladder, with wins against the Roosters (23-12) and Sea Eagles (18-16), as well as a spirited loss to the Rabbitohs in Perth last start. A victory against the Tigers would move them to 20 competition points – and well within finals striking distance.
“I think [we are worthy of the finals], I certainly do,” Mateo said of his team that have won five of their past six matches.
“It’s probably a question you can ask other teams but I think the way we’ve been playing lately and the form we’ve been showing, I think we are a finals team.
“We’re going in the right direction… and we’ve still got a lot of work to do but we’re all on the same page now. We’ve got the effort there every week, it’s just the execution we’ve got to get ready to get better and with the training we’re putting in during the week we’re certainly getting closer to where we want to be.”
Mateo said the late slide against the Rabbitohs, resulting in a 30-13 loss despite leading 13-6 at halftime, was not a worry for his side.
“We’re playing some good football, that’s what’s important to us – that we keep progressing and getting better every week,” Mateo said.
“While we didn’t win against Souths, there were some good things to come out of it and with that we’re never satisfied and we know we’ve got a big job ahead of us and we haven’t accomplished anything yet – we’re well aware of that. We’ve got a long way to go.
“[Souths are] probably the best team in the comp at the moment and rightfully so, they won that game from some little bits of brilliance from certain individuals and we probably lost our way a bit in the second half. Our kicking game wasn’t as good as we wanted it and we lacked a bit of poise. In the first half we completed our sets well and really controlled what we were doing and sort of lost our way.”
This week, Mateo, coach Matt Elliott and the Warriors team are expecting to deliver an improved performance – especially with so much riding on this clash. A win against the Tigers, who also enter the clash in good form with four wins from their past six games, could see the Kiwis climb to as high as eighth on the premiership table.
“It’s really important,” Mateo said of Friday night’s match.
“Personally I haven’t looked at the table too much – I believe it you look at it too much you can get distracted and all we’re worried about is training hard during the week and getting out there and putting in a good performance. I think most times if we do our jobs well it takes us a fair way to winning the game. We’ve just got to get our own backyard sorted and then get out there and play whoever we’re against.”