Star back-rower Feleti Mateo has likened the Warriors’ rich vein of form to Parramatta’s incredible run home in 2009, insisting the Kiwi club can repeat the dose and go all the way to the grand final on October 2.
A key member of the Parramatta side that won 10 of their last 11 games to storm into the decider two years ago, Mateo can see similarities in a Warriors team that has won their past three on the back of a near-identical style of play to the 2009 Eels, with offloads and second-phase play running their rivals ragged.
Their 23 offloads against South Sydney last week was the fourth highest in the NRL this season (to go with their season-best 36 in Round 9) and another win over lowly Canberra on Sunday would see the Warriors right in the hunt for a previously unlikely top-four berth.
“There is a definitely a similarity there,” Mateo told NRL.com. “Obviously we’re a different club and the culture here is different but that was a great run in 2009 and it would be good if we could do the same here this year.
“But we don’t want to get too carried away with anything.
“Our offloading is a big part of our game but it’s all about picking the time and place to do it. Everyone can get a bit offload-friendly when you get up by 18 or 20 points, so that’s something we’ve got to learn… but we’ve got a very young team too so that comes with experience.
“I think the big thing is that we’re all enjoying ourselves.”
Asked whether he believed the Warriors could challenge the top teams come September, Mateo said: “It would be nice to think that we could and we certainly have the ability but we’re trying to stay humble and not get too ahead of ourselves. We’ve got a lot of improvement left in us. We’ve been pretty good in patches but we’re just trying to work on our consistency and playing hard for 80 minutes, sticking to our game plan.”
Just like 2009, Mateo has played a starring role in the Warriors’ recent string of victories after settling into a role in the back row; however it is a much-improved 27-year-old that has carved up opponents in 2011.
Burdened by expectations last season in a Parramatta squad that offered few other attacking options, he credits young halves James Maloney and Shaun Johnson for helping resurrect a career that had previously threatened to fizzle out.
“It’s funny because I don’t really feel like my role is any different – I was in the back row last year and I’m in the back row again this year. I wasn’t sure and Ivan [Cleary] wasn’t too sure where he was going to play me this year but I’ve found a home in the back row here.
“We’ve got some really good young halves that guide the team around really well and they just allow me to pick my times to get in there and get my hands on the ball. It has made it a lot easier for me.”
Mateo admitted that the off-field struggles at the Eels affected him last year but said the move to New Zealand had done wonders both on and off the field.
“I guess I’m enjoying my footy a bit more now,” he said. “I think coming off contract last year, I was really unsure of my future and I think that affected me a bit in the middle of the year. But once I made my decision, and now that I’m here, I just worked hard to earn the respect of my team-mates. I think I’ve done that.”
“So yeah, I’m over the moon with the whole move. I’m really settling into the city and I think that’s showing on the field – I’m having a lot of fun with the boys I’m playing with. I feel really happy and really comfortable.”
The Warriors are hot favourites to make it four in a row this weekend against a Canberra side that upset premiers St George Illawarra last week and is starting to show glimpses of the form that saw them go on their own charge home late last season.
But Mateo said the Warriors couldn’t afford to be concerned by their opponents, with another two competition points on Sunday essentially guaranteeing them a finals berth.
“We’re pretty happy [with their position] although we’re probably not comfortable,” he said. “We’ve won three in a row but you lose a few and suddenly you find yourself battling to make the top eight.
“We’ve just got to keep winning games and putting our best foot forward and hopefully we can push for a top-four spot. That’s something that’s in the back of our minds too but I think we’ve just got to wait and see what happens. Cementing a spot in the semis is the first thing – and then we can work hard to get that home semi.”
Meanwhile Warriors’ winger Manu Vatuvei needs just two more tries to equal Stacey Jones’ record of 39 tries at Mt Smart Stadium following his fourth career hat-trick against South Sydney last week.
Late NRL news:
• Canberra is expected to name prop David Shillington to face the Warriors on Sunday after his recovery from a pectoral injury.
• Newcastle have all sorts of injury concerns in and around the halves, with Jarrod Mullen (pec), Ryan Stig (groin) and Kurt Gidley (hamstring) all in doubt to face the Gold Coast on Sunday.
• St George Illawarra will welcome captain Ben Hornby (hand) and forwards Dan Hunt (tricep) and Jon Green (virus) back from injury and illness when they face South Sydney on Sunday. Five-eighth Jamie Soward can hit 100 career try assists with a hat-trick of involvements against the bunnies.
• Roosters prop Jason Ryles’ tenth hit-up against the Bulldogs will mark his 3000th career run, while Manly winger Michael Robertson’s ninth dart with the ball against the Wests Tigers will see him record 2000 career runs.
• Wests Tigers’ interchange Wade McKinnon will crack 100 career line-breaks if he busts the Manly defence in Gosford tonight.