Warriors wing spot Maumalo's to lose
Before the start of the year he was better known as a back-rower in the Holden Cup, but Ken Maumalo has become the unlikely man to solve the Warriors' right wing problem.
With Ngani Laumape – who partnered Manu Vatuvei on the flanks for most of 2014 – out for the season with a partially torn ACL, the Warriors have tried both Tuimoala Lolohea and Jonathan Wright in the position with mixed success.
But in 20-year-old Maumalo the club have found a prototype of their ideal winger: a big, powerful ball carrier who can gain metres early in tackle counts.
In each of his three Telstra Premiership games to date Maumalo has run for more than 100 metres and averaged 14 carries, ticking off a couple of his key weekly goals in the process.
"Seventeen-plus carries every week and try and make all my tackles, and go errorless – those are the goals I set and the standards I try and live up to," said Maumalo, who stands at 191cm and currently weighs 105kgs.
"[In the] NSW Cup I was meeting them week-in, week-out, but the NRL is a bit harder to meet your goals."
After three straight victories the Warriors have slumped to defeats against premiership contenders the Rabbitohs and Roosters in the past fortnight, but Maumalo says he has already learnt from those contests. "It's been good playing against top quality teams; it has been great for my experience and I am learning a lot."
Growing up playing footy for south Auckland club the Papatoetoe Panthers, Maumalo was a back-rower who also played a bit of centre.
He continued to make a name for himself in the Warriors' NYC squad as second-rower, scoring a try off the bench in last year's grand final victory over the Broncos.
But after spending the off-season training as a winger, and starring in the position with a double against the Panthers in a trial match this year, Maumalo was called up to take a place in the injury-ravaged Warriors backline.
"I grew up playing back row and centre, but this pre-season I was training on the wing, but it doesn't matter where I play, as long as I am on the field I don't mind," Maumalo said.
"It's been easy, I guess having the likes of Manu talk to me about the wing and tell me what not to do, it's been a good transition, I am still learning but improving heaps.
"I was pretty terrible at the high ball a couple of years ago, but that's something I have knuckled down on and really worked on."
Coach Andrew McFadden has been impressed with his form so far, and confirmed mid-week that despite wing options David Fusitu'a and Glen Fisiiahi returning to the frame for selection, the position was Maumalo's to lose.
"Ken was terrific again on the weekend, he is certainly adding a lot of value to us and I think everyone can see that," McFadden said.
"While he is doing that he holds his position.
"We have played a couple of hard teams – for a young guy coming up against the Rabbitohs and then the Roosters that's no easy feat – but he has gone straight into them head on.
"He is a pretty fearless guy, a big guy, and he sort of gives us that Manu like carry out of yardage.
"He has obviously been very strong with the high ball as well; pretty good attributes for a winger.
"I think it will be at least a couple of games [for Fisiiahi to be considered], he is going to have to get some match fitness. [Fusitu'a] certainly looked very good in NSW Cup last weekend and he needs to continue to do that."
With Jonathan Wright not included in the 17 for this week's clash against the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium, and Sam Tomkins still struggling to recover from a knee injury, Maumalo is named to make his fourth NRL appearance on Saturday night.