Newcastle halfback Mitchell Pearce reckons the Warriors possess the most potent back three in the Telstra Premiership. Stephen Kearney reckons they’re just warming up.
The Warriors coach wasn’t arguing with Pearce’s assessment after Roger Tuivasa-Sheck inspired the home side to ruin the Knights playmaker’s 250th match. The match became a celebration for hooker Issac Luke reaching the same milestone with the Warriors putting in an impressive display in their 20-4 win at Mt Smart Stadium.
But even after RTS’s stunning 338 running metres, 223 from Ken Maumalo and a try and some crucial aeronautics – both in attack and defence - from fellow winger David Fusitu’a, Kearney wanted more.
"The polish with our attack, I just don’t think that’s quite where we want it yet," Kearney said with an eye to the Warriors' final road trip of the regular season to face the Bulldogs on Sunday, and more pertinently September football which looks a lock for the Auckland club after their 13th win of the campaign.
"I thought our attack was probably just tinkering on really clicking tonight and we’ve probably been a little bit like that over the last month. To me it’s a bit of individual skill and detail so that’s the focus for us, particularly this week.
"I think defensively over the last couple of weeks we’ve shown what we are capable of and that’s got to be the base standard for us, but that’s definitely the area of improvement, the polish in our attack."
Match Highlights: Warriors v Knights - Round 22, 2018
Kearney singled out RTS for further praise after the fullback backed up from his man-of-the-match performance against St George Illawarra last weekend. He’s also pleased the entire backs division have responded in the last fortnight to a challenge he laid down after the limp loss to the Gold Coast and before their rousing response in Wollongong.
"I think in games like this in the past, we’ve let ourselves down in terms of our physicality. We haven’t aimed up physically and that starts when you carry the footy," Kearney said.
"Ken and Roger tonight in terms of the numbers, and David, in fact all the back five, Sol [Solomone Kata] and Bealey [Gerard Beale], they set the tone for us in attack in terms of their physicality and the way the carried the footy."
Kearney paid tribute to Luke – and the hooker’s teammates - after the rake received a rousing haka from the crowd at the end of his milestone match.
"We had [Kiwis coach and Luke’s former South Sydney coach] Michael Maguire come and present Bully with his jumper yesterday and I thought he spoke wonderfully well of him.
"And I think it should be mentioned Mickayela his wife has had a lot to do with his career and it's quite appropriate it’s Women in League round because Bully wouldn’t have got to 250 if it wasn’t for Mickayela.
"It’s a real significant milestone for him. He’s not the biggest fella but I think the way he’s gone about it to notch up 250 games is a real credit to him and his family. I thought the team responded with a real tough performance for him tonight. I thought Bully was OK but he probably could have played better."
Kearney confirmed Tohu Harris would not play against the Bulldogs but was likely to be available for the Warriors two final regular season home games, against the Panthers (August 24) and Raiders (August 31) on back-to-back Fridays.
Interchange star Jazz Tevaga picked up a foot injury and there are concerns it might be a recurrence of a problem he picked up earlier in the season.