Matulino opening new doors for Warriors
Warriors prop Ben Matulino is playing arguably the best footy of his career in 2015, and his teammates say it's allowing them to play a whole new brand of rugby league.
Averaging 17 carries and 156 metres per game so far this year, the 26-year old heads into Round 16 as the Telstra Premiership's third-best for total metres gained, behind Kiwi international teammates Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jesse Bromwich.
He also leads the competition in offloads [averaging 2.5 per game] and sits third for most hit-ups [averaging 14 per game].
Those stats are doing his own reputation no harm, and according to Warriors standoff Chad Townsend they are also affording the team more opportunities at dummy half, and allowing himself and halves partner Shaun Johnson more time to finish sets on a high.
"A lot of our dummy half chances come down to what Ben is doing, when he runs the ball it's red alert, you have to worry about getting in front of him and then stopping the offload," Townsend told NRL.com.
"He usually leaves a man on the deck and it gives our hookers more time to run and everyone else time to get up and support.
"He has been one of our standout players all year consistently; a really good guy to play with."
A player of immense promise from day one, Matulino has played 20 Tests for New Zealand and last year became the first ever Holden Cup graduate to play 150 NRL games.
The 107kg bookend is the first to admit he has failed to reach his best in the past though, often lacking the self-motivation to keep challenging himself at training and during games.
But under coach Andrew McFadden, Matulino experienced his most productive off-season heading into 2015, and veteran hooker Nathan Friend said the club are now reaping the rewards.
"The big guy has had the potential for years and that's why he has been in the Kiwi side," Friend said.
"He has a great offload and the way he leans into tackles he is so dominant and hard to defend.
"The guy gave himself a good chance for a big year by having a full off-season, and he is preparing much better for a game and is starting to prove this year just how good he can be."
Coming off his best performance of the year against the Gold Coast last Saturday, where he ran for 222 metres off 21 carries, Matulino said mid-week that his form could be put down to McFadden keeping him grounded with constant feedback.
"I know there's been a couple of games where I've thought I went OK and 'Cappy' has just come over the top and said 'Na you haven't,'" Matulino said.
"That kind of stuff keeps me grounded and makes me work a bit harder.
"There were parts of my game against the Titans that kind of cost us, I was involved in two of the tries they scored in the first half.
"In terms of stats that's never been a goal for me and Bull [fellow prop Jacob Lillyman], for us the main job is to create moments for guys like Shaun and Chad, whether that's leaving a guy on the ground or getting a quick play the ball.
"If we get a couple of those a game then I guess we are doing our job."
This Saturday at Mt Smart Stadium Matulino will face a bruising Canberra front row, led by internationals Frank-Paul Nuuausala and David Shillington.