Warriors chasing all three grades
They were humbled last week against the Broncos, but the lure of having all three grades at Grand Final day has the Warriors primed for a big performance in their blockbuster semi-final against the Wests Tigers.
All three grades are a realistic chance of making the October 2 spectacle, with the Toyota Cup and NSW cup sides already booked into the Preliminary Finals after winning in the first week of the playoffs.
Rugby league in New Zealand is thriving and it is something all three grades from across the ditch have spoken openly about as the first grade squad head into a knock-out semi-final at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night.
“All our teams are in the playoffs at the moment,” Warriors forward Ben Matulino told NRL.com.
“We always think about how good it will be if we are all there on Grand Final day.”
The Warriors have won seven from their last 10 games; of the three games they lost, two were to the third-placed Broncos and one was to last year’s premiers, the Dragons. It is why there is no panic across the ditch as they prepare to take on the Wests Tigers in a do-or-die clash.
The Warriors may have been thoroughly outplayed 40-10 at an emotion-charged Suncorp Stadium last week, but Matulino says they have learnt from the experience and vowed not to let it happen again.
“We have learned a tough lesson,” Matulino said.
“We sort of took it for granted and didn’t show any respect for the opposition, we just chucked the ball around and didn’t build any pressure.
“This week we have to go back to what got us in the playoffs and get the ball rolling up the field again.”
While both teams are renowned for their attacking and open playing styles, it is the work done by the forwards that will be key to the contest, according to Matulino. Both sides have a lot of footwork, mobility and skill in their forward packs, highlighted by the battle between Liam Fulton and Feleti Mateo.
“They have always had a mobile pack and it contributes to the way they play, they like to play a fast style of football,” he said.
“We don’t want to get caught up in their game, their style of football.
“We can’t let Benji get room, we need to stop their forwards and get on top of them. If we can control the ball and get it rolling up the middle then we will be a good chance of winning.”
Matulino is one of only three Warriors to play every game this year, but the 22-year-old candidly admitted he thought he should have been dropped at the start of the season.
“Maybe at the start of the year I should have been dropped from the team,” he said.
“But Ivan [Cleary] and Tony [Iro] stood by me and credit to them, they have helped me out a lot this year.
“When the team was losing I tended to go missing in games, and that is something I have improved thanks to them.”
Disillusioned and ‘going missing’ in games Matulino made a decision that would turn his season around. He got together with friend and longtime forward partner Russell Packer and decider that they would start an ‘extras’ group.
The pair has been playing together since under-16s and decided that doing weekly extra training sessions would help them have a bigger impact on the 2011 Telstra Premiership season. How right they were.
“Me and Russell [Packer] took it upon ourselves to start up an extras group with the trainer,” he said.
“From there we have been doing it since the fifth round and we haven’t missed a single session since.
“It’s been a key point to how we have gone this year. It has gotten to the point that pretty much the whole team now comes and joins early in the mornings, doing extras. Boxing, rowing, shuttle runs and cycling are some of the things we do now as a session before we actually start training.”
It is this attitude and dedication that has the Warriors set for a massive performance against the Wests Tigers, trying to keep the dream alive of a Warriors three-peat on rugby league’s biggest day.