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Experienced campaigner Jerome Ropati returns at right centre as the Warriors look to plug their leaky defence up against the Dragons. Copyright: Charles Knight/NRL Photos.
Sitting in the stands at Pirtek Stadium last Sunday afternoon, veteran Warriors centre Jerome Ropati could barely bring himself to watch what was happening in front of him.

His team were on the receiving end of a 36-16 thrashing. The Eels had torn to pieces the right edge, where in between his torrid run of injuries, Jerome calls home.

The Warriors missed more than 20 tackles down their right side against Parramatta, which also led to four tries coming down that corridor.

“It’s hard to say (what went wrong). I think we were physically dominated by the Eels,” Ropati said.

“That’s a goal for us this week first of all - to win that physical battle, because that can change a lot of things.

“When we did have the footy we were on the back foot and couldn’t get clean ball, which is why we were dropping it and were under pressure for a fair bit of the game.”

Ropati has watched the NRL change drastically since his first grade debut in 2003, but says this year’s rule changes are affecting the game more than ever before, and that the Warriors struggled to adjust.

“The game is sped up, you could see Parramatta finding their fronts a lot easier and getting quick play-the-balls.

“It is a lot faster, you can tell by how many tacklers you are getting into the ruck, there’s only about two - last year you were getting three or four and could slow it down. But it has changed.”

That fact alone could be of concern for Warriors fans ahead of the Eden Park clash with the Dragons, given that Ropati is still trying to fully recover from knee injuries which have punctuated his past three seasons.
“There is a lot I can improve, especially defensively,” said Ropati, who is set to mark up on fellow Kiwis Gerard Beale and Jason Nightingale.

“The body is good, but we will have to see in the games how it holds up. Whatever happens on the field will happen.”
While Ropati is most accustomed to the left centre position, where he has struck up a good partnership with Manu Vatuvei in the past, he will once again line up on the right due to Dane Nielsen being a left-centre specialist.

“You are defending with someone different, obviously I haven’t defended much with Shaun (Johnson) and Glen (Fisiiahi) before – that’s the difference. I am comfortable on the right, and happy just to be in the team,” he said.

While coach Matt Elliott had other options to try and plug the gaping hole in the No.3 jersey – powerful youngsters Konrad Hurrell and Ngani Laumape, even captain Simon Mannering – he said Ropati was the best fit for Saturday night.

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“I think Jerome obviously brings that experience and has a calmness about him,” Elliott said.

"It’s not just his performance, but also his impact on the people either side of him that we have seen when he is out there. Obviously he is a little underdone fitness-wise because he hasn’t played a lot of footy, but he has prepared himself well.”

Ropati sits on 142 NRL games, having been restricted to just 15 in the past three seasons. The 150 milestone is clearly in sight, but in what could well be his final year the 29-year-old isn’t focussed on reaching the mark.

“It’s an achievement my friends and family will appreciate, but I’m just grateful for the time I have had in the NRL. I will continue to do it, but whether I reach 150 games or not, it doesn’t really bother me.”
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