They may have produced their worst performance of the season last weekend but five-eighth James Maloney is adamant the Warriors have the attacking weapons to blow in-form Wests Tigers off the park and nullify the threat of opposite number Benji Marshall.
Maloney described his one-on-one battle with Marshall at the Sydney Football Stadium tonight as a ‘dream meeting’ but insisted he was ready for the challenge with the Warriors ready to stun the NRL’s hottest team.
“I see it as a bit of a personal challenge – it’s something I’ve been looking forward to,” Maloney told NRL.com ahead of tonight’s sudden-death final. “It’s good to play against blokes like that – he is the sort of bloke that can turn the game on its head. That will be a big challenge for me – he is on my side of the field and marking up against him will be a tough test but I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully I can do a good job and get one over on him.”
The Tigers are renowned as one of the most lethal attacking outfits in the Telstra Premiership but Maloney believes the Warriors, who are blessed with speed out wide, are the perfect side to turn the tables and progress to a grand final qualifier against Melbourne next week.
“I think any side in football that has some speed has an advantage with what that can create, so it’s obviously handy,” he said. “We’ve got [Kevin Locke] at the back who would have to be one of the quickest in the NRL and Shaun Johnson has scored some long-range tries too, so we do have a lot of speed there and a lot of ability.
“I think our combinations are continuing to develop, too. Obviously it’s only been the back half of the year that Shaun has been there but he’s coming along well and obviously [Locke] has been coming along well, too. We keep working on things and trying to create little opportunities there. Hopefully we can keep building on that on the weekend. The main thing for us is just getting to the basics that we got wrong last week and correcting them.”
The Tigers have won both meetings between the two clubs this season but the Warriors believe they have learned their lesson – particularly following their Round 14 clash at Mt Smart Stadium. In a remarkable contest, the home side led 22-4 with less than 20 minutes remaining before the Tigers piled on four late tries to steal an unlikely 26-22 win.
Maloney said it was crucial that the Warriors stuck to their guns this time around.
“The Tigers’ strengths are definitely spreading the ball and moving the ball around so we’ve got to be mindful of not falling into the trap of playing their style of football,” he said.
“We need to make sure we play how we want to play – keep the play-the-ball slow and win the ruck – that sort of stuff which will hopefully take away the effectiveness of them moving the ball around.
“First and foremost we’ve got to be tight around the rucks. I think with the Tigers spread out across the paddock it’s easy to start worrying about what’s going to happen out there but we’ve just got to keep worrying about the ruck first. If we can start winning that battle through the middle it will help us counter-act what they throw at us out wide.”
The return from injury of Tigers centre Chris Lawrence throws up an interesting dilemma for the Warriors who would have noted that it is in fact on the opposite side of the field – the Tigers’ right edge – that they favour, with 46 tries scored there in 2011 (compared to 28 on Lawrence’s left).
They are also deadly through the middle, where Marshall combines with Robbie Farah, Robert Lui and Tim Moltzen.
“I think pretty much all over the park – they’ll shift it from one side to the other and make yards, then shift it back to the other and score tries, so they’re dangerous all over the park,” Maloney observed. “I don’t think there is just focus on one area of the field. They’ve got key players all across it, so it’s a matter of doing our best to number up and maintain our positions in the defensive line.”
Confidence will be key for the Warriors.
Thrashed 40-10 by Brisbane in a woeful performance last week, all eyes will be on how quickly they recover but Maloney promised there would be no such concerns this time around.
“Things didn’t go well but at the end of the day the completion rate and basic things like that are the things we need to fix up. The good news is that it’s nothing major or nothing that’s going to take a long time to fix – it’s just something we’ve got to be mindful of this week,” he said.
Keys to the clash:
• James Maloney (182) requires only seven points to record the second-most points ever scored by a Warrior in a single season.
• The Warriors and Tigers have never previously played each other at the SFS.
• The Tigers have scored 96 points in their past three games against the Warriors.
• Over the past two months the Tigers have recorded the most line-breaks (5.4 per game) whilst conceding the fewest (2.8) – but the Warriors have scored the most tries by any team over the past 10 weeks (45).
• The Warriors have won three out of four semi-finals they have contested.