Warriors put revenge on backburner
Warriors star Dane Nielsen says he and his teammates aren't consumed by a desire for revenge against Penrith on Sunday – even though it's impossible to forget what happened last time the two teams met.
That was in Round 10 at Centrebet Stadium, when the Panthers walloped the Warriors 62-6 to leave the Auckland-based team with a win-loss of 2-8 and, seemingly, little hope for the rest of the season. The Warriors didn't even get on the scoreboard until Manu Vatuvei crossed in the 78th minute.
But the Warriors rallied in the wake of that awful defeat, winning seven of their next eight games to get back into the finals race. Losses in the last two rounds have damaged that bid, but not written it off.
They are in 10th place on 22 points going into this game, and because of their poor points for-and-against differential of minus-82 they may have to win all four of their remaining games to get into the finals on 30 points.
If they finish on 28 and are level with another team, their differential – although it would obviously improve between now and then if they mostly won – could still prove bad enough to be their undoing.
The Panthers are in 13th place on 20 points, with a differential of minus-49. They look to be just about gone, but mathematically they are still a chance since 28 points could be enough to get in, so they could be in the mood to give it one last almighty crack at Mt Smart Stadium.
Centre Nielsen, a three-time State of Origin player for Queensland who won a premiership with Melbourne last year before switching to the Warriors, says the most important thing for the Warriors is to get their game right after back-to-back losses to Cronulla and Manly.
"When you get handed a big loss like the one we had against Penrith it's in the back of your mind when you play them again, but it's not the main thing that we're worried about," Nielsen said.
"We need to win games to get to the finals. We've got four games to play and we pretty much have to win all of them, so while it's always going to be there – it was 60-odd points, it was a bad mark on the club's history and an embarrassing time for the players and not good for the fans – it's definitely not the main focus this week.
"We started the season slowly and that put us in a pretty bad position, being near the bottom for a couple of months, but then we won seven out of eight and that put us in a better position. It still wasn't quite where we wanted to be, but it gave us a chance to make a run at the finals.
"But the last two games have halted our progress a bit, and with only four games to go we're like a lot of teams around us. Our for-and-against isn't crash hot either, so we've just got to win and keep winning. It's one week at a time, knowing we probably have to win every game to be there.
"It's a long, hard year starting with the pre-season and you don't want to go through all of that only to miss out on the finals by one game or something. We know what we have to do and it all starts this week against Penrith."
The Warriors moved the ball beautifully in their 30-22 win over the Storm three rounds back, consistently putting their wide attackers on the outside of defenders as was the plan, but their attack was disjointed against both the Sharks and the Sea Eagles.
Nielsen said the Warriors had worked hard at training this week to try to all get all parts working smoothly again.
"It's a big focus," he said. "We did a video session and it showed we're only a little bit off, but playing week-in, week-out against high-quality sides in the NRL you can't afford to be even a little bit off. We played the Sharks and Manly, both very good teams, and when you give opportunities to teams like that they make the most of it.
"We're not where we want to be. We've got a lot to improve on. But on the injury front we're not too bad, and we're working on what we need to work on at training. We've got a sharp focus on fixing the little things up, and getting our timing right, and hopefully that will help us to win on the weekend."
One of the big plusses for the Warriors going in against the Panthers is Nielsen's centre partner, Konrad Hurrell. He has scored 11 tries in 16 games this season, and is among the hardest players in the competition to stop. Nielsen says Hurrell is ready to rumble in the closing rounds.
"He's been awesome recently," Nielsen said. "He started the year a bit slow, but he's got his weight down now and looks really comfortable. He's young, and he's still learning. Because he burst on the scene last year people expect him to come out and kill it again in his second year, but it's not that easy. It's a hard game against high-quality players every week.
"Konrad has improved his defence, and he's been coming up to me and the other senior blokes asking about little things he can do to help him improve. As long as he's willing to do that, he's going to keep getting better.
"He's got that natural explosiveness in his attack and he can score tries, but I think once he gets his defence in order he'll be a great player. He's got a great future, the big fellow, and let's hope he stays at the Warriors for a long time and realises his potential."