Unsung Warrior Maumalo defying old winger stereotypes
Wingers. You know the type, the stain-less superstars who suddenly pop up when there's a headline to be had, grabbing the try-scoring glory that is actually due the big, mud-splattered blokes doing the grunt-work before them.
It's a tired cliché you certainly can't pin on Ken Maumalo, one of the unheralded stars who has quietly led the Warriors to the cusp of September football for the first time since the Auckland club reached the 2011 grand final.
The 24-year-old has been a tireless contributor in 18 80-minute efforts this season, producing the "dirty carries" to start sets that have often been converted by his wing partner David Fusitu'a. Fusitu'a is no glory boy either but is a proven finisher, his 15 tries just two shy of the Storm's Josh Addo-Carr and Rabbitoh Robert Jennings in the leading scorer stakes.
It's not that Maumalo doesn't know where the white chalk is as the Warriors prepare to host the Newcastle Knights at Mt Smart Stadium on Friday night. The fourth-season Warrior has dotted down five times this season and has ample opportunity to better his career best seven try contribution last season.
But it says much of the Samoan international's selfless attitude that last week's gritty 18-12 win over at St George Illawarra, built onside dogged second half defence, got the juices flowing. Maumalo was a metre eater in Wollongong, responding from deep for many of his 208 metres from 22 runs as the Warriors clung on.
"Those are the games you want to win ... I really enjoyed that because I thought we just toughed it out," said Maumalo, whose running metres contribution was bettered only by man-of-the-match Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (239m) but was still a huge jump on his season average of 154 metres.
The Wollongong response was needed after the "weak mind-set" the winger believes the Warriors took into the previous week's Titans match – resulting in a 36-12 licking.
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney concurs and was impressed with how the Warriors rallied around Fusitu'a when St George Illawarra scored two converted tries seven minutes after half-time to get back to 18-12, with the Dragons first scoring after bundling Fusitu'a over the sideline and then pouncing on a coughed-up carry by the winger.
"The positive for me, if I used the example of David Fusitu'a, he made a couple of those errors... and in my opinion, David six months ago would have walked away from that challenge, went into his shell and maybe wouldn't have made the defensive reads he needed to make," Kearney said.
"But he didn't, he stayed in the game, made the defensive reads we needed him to make and carried the ball how he does. That's the difference. I think that was a real positive learning for us as a footy team."
Now the Warriors' backs need to start finishing the try-scoring opportunities they've bombed in recent weeks, including three scoreless second-half efforts in as many matches leading into Friday night against the Knights.
"I think it's just mental preparation eh," said Maumalo of the forced passes and fumbled catches hurting the team with the worst home record (4-5) of any in the top eight.
"We're still working on it, the execution, the pass, the catch, it's the fundamentals. It can seem so easy but in high pressure situations it's pretty hard to execute a pass and catch.
"So leading into this next block of games we've got to build on our skill. If you're willing to go get it, then you'll go get it. I think some weeks we've been on and some weeks we've been off, so it's just a mindset which is leading to that inconsistency stuff."
Not surprisingly, Maumalo has pinpointed defence as an area for personal improvement, not the razzle dazzle stuff that earns the headlines. He made one but missed two tackles against St George Illawarra and owns a wobbly 68% tackle efficiency rating this season.
"I feel like just my defensive reads have been a little off next to Sol (centre Solomone Kata). I feel I can really knuckle up on that a bit better and just sticking to my tackles," he said.
"Other than that I think everything is going OK on my edge, the left edge. I give big props to Sol and my back row, and Greenie (five-eighth Blake Green), which is helping me play a bit better. But I can still get better."