Warriors star Feleti Mateo says it is time he forced the hand of NSW selectors, insisting he is ready to play State of Origin in 2012 and targeting Sunday’s grand final rematch with Manly as a perfect opportunity to put his best foot forward.
A victim of the Blues’ glut of quality back-rowers in recent seasons after an eligibility mix-up saw him overlooked for an Origin debut back in 2008, Mateo could well come back into representative calculations later this season as the Blues look to end Queensland’s six-year dominance in the interstate series.
He starred during the Warriors’ run to the grand final last season – topping the Telstra Premiership for offloads with 85 – but told NRL.com in the lead-up to Round 1 that he was keen to add to his resume in 2012.
“It (Origin) is always in the picture so if it rolled around I’d love to put my hand up and play,” Mateo said.
“I’d like to think I’m getting closer. I definitely think I’m ready. Now it’s about the selectors thinking the same and making sure that I’m in good form.”
Mateo rebuffed any suggestion that the Warriors were looking at Sunday’s clash with Manly as an opportunity for revenge following their grand final loss five months ago but admitted his clash with the likes of NSW back-rowers Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart presented a huge opportunity.
“Obviously they’re the benchmark of back-rowers in the competition – especially in NSW – so getting over the top of them, hopefully the right people see what I’m doing and my name gets thrown around a bit,” he said.
“I mean, you always want to play your best but when you do play against great players like Watmough and Stewart, you do want to put on a good show.”
Key to Mateo’s push for higher representative honours in 2012 will be his defence. While he has built a fierce reputation around his attacking game and ability to create second-phase play, the 27-year-old was disappointed with the 81 tackles he missed throughout the year (only James Maloney missed more at the Warriors).
“I’d love to be a bit stronger in defence,” he observed. “I’ve got some good guys around me – I think Simon Mannering is the best defender in the competition so I’ve been watching what he does at training and his extras and I’m trying to get that into my game. I just want to get a bit better in that department.
“Having said that, I’m trying not to change anything about my attacking game. If [opportunity] is there, it’s there. The first couple of weeks I might tuck the ball under the arm a bit more to lay the foundation for the boys… wait for the right time in the game. That’s probably something I’ve struggled with a bit in the past and hopefully I can get it right from the start of the year.”
It’s been a busy off-season for the Warriors, who farewelled long-term coach Ivan Cleary following their thrilling run to the grand final. The appointment of former Leeds and Kiwi national coach Brian McClennan poses some fascinating questions as the club looks to build on their success in 2011 – although Mateo said fans shouldn’t expect any major change in the side’s style.
“It was a bit daunting at first having to start again but we haven’t done too much different to what we used to do,” he explained. “He (McClennan) just tweaked a few things that he thought we needed to work on and target.
“We want to be more consistent this year but I think that goes with the systems we have in place – being solid and trying to be a bit ruthless. We want to be a side that can be ruthless. If we can do that from the start of the year it should put us in good stead later on, rather than having to worry about scraping into the finals.
“But I think we’ve put everything in place that ‘Bluey’ has asked of us, so now it’s just a matter of establishing our new systems and getting a good start to the year.”
Mateo pointed to building a strong club culture as the primary focus of McClennan this season.
“He is big on culture and the feel of the team, so it’s off the field, in the change rooms with things like being punctual, making sure you do the extra work that you need to do. It creates a good energy within the boys and we’ve responded to that,” he said.
“It’s not to the extent of fining people or anything like that but I think when you see someone slipping, at our club it’s a matter of someone having a quick talk with them. If it’s a guy like Manu, you just give him the bad look that you’re doing something wrong! But everyone knows what they have to do.
“In my case I’m trying to take that leadership role on, too. I’ve been around for a while now and I know what it takes to get to a grand final. I guess a lot of our young blokes know what it takes now too but I can offer my advice whenever it’s needed and hopefully the young boys can bring it on board.”