WATMOUGH WARNING: Manly back-rower Anthony Watmough is adamant that stopping his former NSW team-mate Willie Mason is the key to silencing Newcastle this Sunday.
The Knights took a gamble when they signed the controversial Mason to a small mid-season deal but so impressive has the veteran prop been that he is set to sign a new two-year deal after helping spark the club’s recent charge.
Watmough said Manly would go a long way towards making it four wins in a row by limiting Mason’s impact.
“He is playing out of his skin,” ‘Choc’ said. “I don’t think I’ve seen him play better. He is doing the tough stuff and really getting them on a roll. But he’s not just running the ball, he is really enjoying it out there and they’re feeding off that.
“I think to beat Newcastle the key is to stop Willie and also their two wingers. If we can do that we’ll go a long way towards winning the game.”
The Sea Eagles will head into Sunday’s game as warm favourites following impressive wins over North Queensland and South Sydney in the past fortnight but Watmough said he hadn’t forgotten the 32-6 thrashing the Knights dealt out to them when they last met just five weeks ago.
“Yeah, they touched us up last time,” he admits. “They’re making a statement and a run to the finals. They don’t want it to be Wayne’s first finals he has missed in 20 years. They’ve got a lot of internal motivation so we have to really step up and put a stop to that because when a team is on that roll it can be hard to stop them.”
Asked if he felt Manly had made their own statement of late, Watmough replied: “We’re getting there. I don’t know if we can announce ourselves as back but we’re building, definitely, so that can only be a positive thing coming into this time of year.
“I think in our ‘D’ [defence], we mostly win games off the back of our ‘D’. We’ve probably lapsed a bit this year and let in a few too many points but the last few weeks we’re building and winning a few games off the back of it.”
BRONCOS BEWARE: Melbourne forward Ryan Hinchcliffe says he has all the motivation he needs to produce his best football over the coming months after the disappointment of the Storm’s early exit 12 months ago and missing selection in this year’s State of Origin series.
Hinchcliffe was known to be firmly in Ricky Stuart’s sights in the lead-up to Origin I but believes a poor showing for Country Origin cost him any chance of making his NSW debut.
“Without a doubt,” Hinchcliffe told NRL.com when asked if missing Origin had provided added motivation.
“At the time I would have loved to have played [for NSW] but I played in that City-Country game and I didn’t play the best game. I think not playing too well in that game – I wouldn’t say I blew my chance but I didn’t give myself the best opportunity and didn’t put my best foot forward.
“That’s what was disappointing for me – if I had played well in that game I would have given myself a bit more of a chance. When you get those opportunities to play in those games you’ve got to play well. You can’t be passive. You’ve got to make things happen.”
Hinchcliffe also admitted that the pain of bowing out of the finals with a shock loss at home to the Warriors in the grand final qualifier still remained but insisted the Storm had learnt from that performance.
“One thing I do know is that as a group we’ve learnt a lot from that game,” he said. “They ground us down, the Warriors, and we just didn’t have any answers for them.
“It was a very disappointing way to bow out and I think it’s probably in the back of everyone’s mind that we’re not going to let that happen again. I don’t know if it’s extra motivation, but certainly a lesson learnt.”
Melbourne’s 2012 campaign has wobbled of late too, with five consecutive losses seeing them lose their grip on the minor premiership. However, impressive wins over Penrith and the Gold Coast have stemmed the tide as they look to finish the regular season strongly.
They get the chance to hammer a nail in the coffin of freefalling Brisbane tonight, with the Broncos needing the win to guarantee they won’t drop from the top eight after this week’s round.
“I think [the losing streak] was a combination of a few little things but generally, across the board, we just went away from doing the little things that make us a good team,” Hinchcliffe admits. “Everyone was more worried about the individual than the team.
“The good thing is that when the team was losing over those five weeks you start to critique yourself pretty hard. There were a few things in those games that I wasn’t particularly happy with – things I was doing.
“But over the last couple of weeks I feel like I’ve made a contribution to the team. When everyone is playing their part and doing their job the team seems to play better.
“I still think we’ve got a fair bit of improvement in our attack, which probably the last couple of months hasn’t been as sharp as we would like, and teams have been defending us quite easily.
“That’s something where we have a fair bit of room for improvement – but I think we’ve defended really well the last two weeks. We’ve got that urgency and a little bit of aggression back in our defence. When we get our defence right our attack looks after itself.”
CROKER’S POINT TO PROVE: Canberra talisman Jarrod Croker is firming as the hot favourite to finish 2012 as the NRL’s top point-scorer but he insists that honour is the furthest thing from his mind as the Raiders fight to claim one of the last remaining spots in the top eight.
With three rounds remaining Croker (188) sits 23 points clear of nearest rival Adam Reynolds (165) yet asked if he would consider it a memorable personal achievement he replied: “I guess it could be but it’s not something I’m looking for.
“If I’m scoring the points that help the team win then that’s a good thing but it’s where we are on the competition ladder that matters more than anything else. I’d rather the team get the two points than me notch up points myself. And with three weeks to go anything can happen.”
Croker said the focus for the Raiders this week would be to maintain the consistency that has eluded them for much of 2012, with some exceptional performances mixed in with some absolute shockers.
“I guess that’s the way it’s been with us,” he said. “I’m not too sure why. I guess it’s a mental thing, really. It’s the same for a few sides but definitely with us. A lot of the time we’ve gone win-loss, win-loss. We’ve had trouble finding that consistency but it would be nice to win three in a row. We know if we can do the little things right that we’ve got the side to win games.”