Completions key to Warriors' hopes
Here is a prediction you probably didn't hear during the pre-season: the Warriors will have the best completion rate in the NRL Telstra Premiership heading into the final eight rounds.
Ball retention has been the Kiwi side's biggest improvement in their first year under coach Stephen Kearney, with a 79.39 per cent average across 16 games, which trumps all others in the competition to date.
In 11 of 16 games this season the Warriors have completed at 80 per cent or higher, achieving 86 per cent rates on six occasions, while five of their seven victories so far have coincided with them completing at or above the 80 mark.
Centre Blake Ayshford told NRL.com the team's error count had been identified as a key reason why the club had failed to make the playoffs over the past five years, and that it was pleasing to see such rapid progress.
"We spoke about the errors that we had coming out of yardage; we would drop the ball, both the backs and the forwards were to blame there, and it's something that we tried to address," Ayshford said ahead of Friday night's clash with the Penrith Panthers at Mount Smart Stadium.
"You can't try and score off every play, which is something we have been guilty of the last couple of years. Pushing passes or trying to offload and do some other things.
"I think just staying on focus on those little things. In the past those errors coming out of yardage were things that killed us."
The Warriors currently possess the second-lowest error rate in the competition, averaging 9.7 per game, which is on track with their numbers from last year and a marked improvement on seasons 2015 and 2014.
This year the Auckland-based side also offload less than any team bar the Cowboys and Knights, with Ayshford saying the change in mentality had also been influenced by the fact that his team want to take advantage of having one of the NRL's best halves pairings at their disposal, in the shape of Kiwi internationals Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson.
"That was another thing – we have got players, world class players like Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Kieran Foran… [so the improved completions] has given us the chance to win a lot more games," Ayshford said.
"As a result, we have hung in there and got some repeat sets and scored on teams after that.
"Now we are first in terms of completions we can't go away from it, because it puts us in the game."
Meanwhile the Warriors have welcomed the return of veteran hooker Issac Luke, back in the side less than a month after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in Round 16, with coach Stephen Kearney impressed with the quick recovery.
"He has worked really hard over the last little bit… the injury wasn't as bad as what we anticipated," Kearney said.
"I think he has been doing [fitness tests on it] for the last two weeks."
The Warriors v Panthers match kicks off at 8pm NZT on Friday, with the stadium to be renamed Manu Vatuvei Stadium for the night in honour of the departing club legend who this week announced he will be taking up a deal with Salford immediately.