Cleary predicting late-season finals charge

Warriors coach Ivan Cleary is predicting a late-season assault on the NRL premiership – starting this weekend against Newcastle – as he awaits the return of a plethora of stars.<br><br>The Kiwi club has been decimated with injury in 2010, with key players Steve Price, Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei, Brett Seymour and Micheal Luck having missed a whopping 39 games between them.<br><br>Price, who is battling a nagging heel injury, hasn’t been seen at all, while centre Brent Tate joined the ever-growing list of casualties last weekend after breaking his jaw in the narrow loss to St George Illawarra.<br><br>But Cleary believes the tide is about to turn for the Warriors with Seymour, Jacob Lillyman and Sam Rapira among a group of players expected to return over the coming weeks.<br><br>“We’ve got the Knights this week and then the bye,” Cleary told NRL.com. “In that time frame Seymour, Lillyman and Rapira come back. Hopefully Brent Tate won’t be too far away either. That’s a pretty handy four. <br><br>“I know Newcastle is in the same boat in needing a win this weekend but I think it gives us plenty to play for – and everyone wants to win before the bye.”<br><br>The Warriors currently sit two points outside the top eight in 11th with five wins from 12, but Cleary is confident his side can push for a finals berth in the second half of the year.<br><br>“We did it three years in a row in 2006, 2007 and 2008,” he said, pointing to the fact that the Warriors are notoriously slow starters. <br><br>“The way the competition is and the way we’re sitting with some key men looming to come back is a positive for us.<br><br>“We only just got beaten by the Dragons last weekend in a game we had every right to win. <br><br>“If we’d won that we’d be looking at 6-6 which, given what we’ve been through, I would be more than happy with. <br><br>“So we’re not far off.”<br><br>Cleary is viewing Sunday’s trip to Newcastle as a four-point game, claiming a win combined with another two points for the bye would set the Warriors up perfectly for the run home.<br><br>Although injuries have thwarted the side’s attempts to string together multiple wins this season, he said the fact that they have managed to stay in touch with the top eight in the face of adversity is a sign of better days ahead.<br><br>“You’ve got to remember that we haven’t been able to put our best team on the field at all this year,” Cleary said.<br><br>“Injuries have been a real issue for us, but what we have seen is some of our middle-of-the-road players or younger players being exposed a little bit more than they are ideally ready – and some of them have really stood up. <br><br>“Russell Packer and Ben Matulino, in particular, have come along in the past month since Sam Rapira was injured. That’s a good sign. <br><br>“I thought our effort against the Dragons last weekend was pretty encouraging. <br><br>“There is enough there over the last month to keep me really positive about how the rest of the season can go.”<br><br><b>Late NRL news:</b><br><br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Canberra’s star fullback Josh Dugan is in doubt for tomorrow night’s clash with North Queensland after injuring his knee in last week’s win over the Gold Coast. He will undergo a medical test before the game.<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;South Sydney has wasted no time in utilising veteran prop Craig Stapleton, who signed with the club this week for the remainder of 2010. Stapleton has been named to make his Rabbitohs debut from the bench against Brisbane on Sunday.<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Titans centre Mat Rogers has been cleared to face Manly at Skilled Stadium tonight after eight weeks out with a knee injury.<br>