Turnaround earns Warriors coach praise
When you are a forward in the NRL nothing compares with the embarrassment of being publicly called out by your coach.
So when Warriors coach Andrew McFadden singled out his forward pack as a problem area post-Round 24, pointing the finger at them as a leading reason for the poor performance of halves Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai, they were left with only one option.
The New Zealand ‘big boppers’ replied in emphatic fashion, running over the top of an injury-riddled but stubborn Gold Coast pack.
“I am pretty pleased with them to be honest with you,” McFadden said about the performance of his forwards.
“It is pretty common knowledge that you really can’t do much unless you win that battle in the middle.
“The forwards really did a good job tonight and Shaun and Thomas played accordingly off the back of that.”
Right from the opening exchanges the Warriors bent the line with intent and produced some skillful touches which contributed to early points for the New Zealanders.
Jacob Lillyman played a leading role in the first try of the match to Ben Henry, while Suaia Matagi served up a clever pass and offload to help his side get over for a further two first-half tries.
“The starting two really laid the platform and I thought particularly Suaia, Sione (Lousi) and Sam Rapira rolled through them,” McFadden said.
“The guys coming off the bench did a really good job as well.
“I thought we really did that well and the forwards really laid the platform for the whole game.”
Prop Ben Matulino - who last week became the first product of the NYC system to rack up 150 first grade games - said the forward pack had been left humiliated by last week’s 46-12 loss to the Roosters, and felt they had to make amends in their last home game of the regular season.
“We knew we were pretty bad the last three weeks,” 25-year-old Matulino said.
“I think it started right from the beginning, the pack knew what they had to do and I think we can be proud of what we managed to do tonight.
“Friendy (Nathan Friend) stood up as well, he pushed up through the ruck and got a couple of little half breaks which was good.”
As a team the Warriors ran for 1448 metres on Sunday, a drastic improvement on the 997 they managed against the Roosters a week earlier.
The effect extended past just improved field positioning and time with the ball in hand too, as halves Johnson and Leuluai were gifted the time to serve up six line breaks in between running for a combined 148 metres.
“I know first-hand the forwards were really disappointed with the platform they laid last week, so they came out and did a job,” Johnson said.
“It wasn’t just one or two of them, it was all of them contributing to give us that front-foot ball.
“Myself, Tommy and Friendy were able to jump off the back of it. I can’t just single one of them out, they all ripped in.”
Meanwhile the standout territory gains weren’t restricted to members of the forward pack, with winger Manu Vatuvei running for over 200 metres for the second time in under a month.
“I was pretty down from the game last week and I wanted to make up for it,” said Vatuvei who was taken from the field late in the match with some muscle tightness.
“It was something that I was hungry to do, I did my job and hopefully the boys were happy with it.”