For the second time in four seasons the Warriors find themselves one game away from the NRL grand final – but prop Sam Rapira believes their most recent ‘nearly’ incarnation had nothing on their current squad.
Rapira, one of only six remaining members of the side beaten 32-6 by Manly in 2008, has labelled the 2011 Warriors the closest-knit unit he has ever been a part of and says it is that belief in one another than can drive the club to a maiden premiership this season.
“There is really strong belief here – a good feeling within the team,” Rapira told NRL.com ahead of Saturday night’s grand final qualifier against Melbourne.
“I think that’s the main thing for us this year and it is right across the field. Everyone does their bit for each other. It’s still a pretty young team but we’re all a good combination.”
Rapira was discussing the evolution of the Warriors’ young forward pack following the retirement of Ruben Wiki and Steve Price in recent years and it was his reaction to the fact that he is now the most senior member of front row that told the story.
Still just 24 years of age, Rapira already boasts 123 first grade games but the quietly spoken Warrior insists he feels no pressure to take on a leadership role he isn’t ready for just yet.
“That’s what I mean by belief,” he said. “The way everyone is playing, I suppose everyone is doing their own little bit so I don’t feel like I have to take the leadership role.
“Jacob Lillyman, he has been around for a while as well and has played well all year. Russell (Packer) and Ben (Matulino) – I think we’re just sharing the workload well, so I feel no pressure to be that leader. But for them to do their job just makes my job easier too, so it’s a good combination.
“We believe in each other – and you can’t coach that.”
The irony, of course, is that Melbourne have found themselves in a similar situation this season following their enforced purge of 12 months ago, with much of their resurrection in 2011 coming on the back of impressive young forwards Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor. The absence of their forward leader Adam Blair through suspension for the third week in a row remains a potential Achilles heel, although Rapira believes that doesn’t change the Storm’s standing as the dominant pack in the competition.
“They’re still a good side, a big forward pack,” he said. “They are the best so it’s going to be a good chance for us to see how we’re going.”
“That’s how I see it. Each week I try to compete against the opposition front row. Them being minor premiers, it’s the perfect chance for us to see how we are going as a pack.
“We want to try and go forward through the middle and lay a good platform for the backs and let them do their thing. If we can get a good roll-on and stop them from coming through us, we should be alright.”
However, Rapira admitted another start like last week’s against Wests Tigers, where the Warriors let in two embarrassingly soft tries to trail 18-6 at the break, would likely prove one mountain too many.
Asked his thoughts on Storm coach Craig Bellamy’s musings yesterday that he didn’t know which Warriors side would turn up, Rapira replied: “Yeah, that’s a fair call.
“We need to play the full 80, like that second half [last week].
“If we do the same as we did last week it’s going to be hard to come back. They’re a team that does all the little things right and if we make one error we’re going to pay for it. We need to eliminate those sorts of things and play our best.”
“We have to focus on what we do well and not worry about them so much. Just focus on what we’ve been doing at training.”
The Warriors have traditionally been one of the few sides to regularly trouble Melbourne in recent times and, significantly, have already beaten them once at AAMI Park this season when they prevailed 18-14.
They also recorded a famous finals upset during their deep run three years ago, with an 18-15 defeat of the minor premiers to progress to Week Two… although Rapira said there was little point dwelling on the past.
“In a way it gives us confidence; but in saying that, it’s all on the day,” he said. “If we turn up I feel that we can compete against anyone but if we don’t there is no point. So we’ve just got turn up with the right attitude.”