Warriors look to shut down Manly trio
The Sea Eagles have arguably the most complete side running around in the NRL right now, but in the eyes of the Warriors can be taken down by removing the influence of three key players.
In Brett Stewart, Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans, the Sea Eagles have a one, six and seven who are proven match winners. This week the Warriors were plotting a plan around containing and exploiting them, believing the Manly machine will begin to splutter if the star trio is pressured enough.
Between them the three have been responsible for 36 of Manly’s 61 try assists in 2014, which means 59 per cent of the time Manly score it is one of them who created the scoring play.
On top of that they have also scored a combined 13 tries and broken the line on 17 occasions heading into round 20.
“It is going to be a real team performance this weekend, [and] that’s certainly going to be a big focus of our attention, pressuring their halves,” Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said.
“It starts with that mindset and attitude going into the game and then it’s going to be a real challenge with our decision making.
“They are one of best attacking teams in the competition and they will definitely test us.”
Not surprisingly, given he leads the competition in try assists with 18 and handles the ball an average of 28 times per match, it was Stewart who commanded the most attention during Warriors video sessions this week, with McFadden full of admiration for the 29-year-old fullback.
“He is the key to their whole attack,” McFadden said.
“Most of the quality stuff that happens around the ball revolves around him; he is a very good player.”
Opposite number Sam Tomkins echoed those thoughts, believing Stewart to be among the NRL’s elite, despite not grabbing the headlines of positional counterparts such as Jarryd Hayne and Billy Slater.
“Everyone has personal battles on the field [and] we will certainly look at Brett’s game and see where we need to be good,” Tomkins said.
“We can’t go missing when he has got the ball in hand - he is definitely dangerous.
“That’s the modern fullback these days, someone who can come into the line and play.”
Tasked with containing Foran on Sunday, Warriors playmaker Shaun Johnson was relishing the opportunity to test himself against his halves partner at international level for New Zealand.
“It’s going to be a big challenge, I know he [Foran] will be excited for it like I am.
“I expect him to be coming at me all day and I have to be able to push back and go at him as well.
“I’ll leave [Cherry-Evans] for Chad Townsend…Chad can deal with him. Obviously he has been playing really good footy too.”
Meanwhile the Warriors continue to sweat on the fitness of star players Konrad Hurrell and Feleti Mateo, for what is a crucial test against a top-eight side before three matches in a row against the cellar-dwelling Raiders, Sharks and Knights.