Warriors brace for dogged challenge in Hamilton
The Warriors' future has looked rosy this week, but should they lose to the Bulldogs in Hamilton tomorrow afternoon a lot of that gloss will wash off.
Yes, coach Andrew McFadden has signed on until 2017, giving the club stability and a leader who isn't prepared to let his charges muck around. And yes, hard-working Aussie Nathan Friend has signed up for another year of relentless runs and tackling.
But the Bulldogs, who arrived in Hamilton yesterday afternoon, are sitting pretty at the top of the table, having won their past six games on the trot.
The Warriors haven't won three in a row since June last year.
The Bulldogs have one of the most punishing forward packs in the competition, led by New Zealander Sam Kasiano, one of the biggest men in the game, and a halves pairing prepared to run rings around their opponents. Kasiano will play off the bench.
The Warriors are well aware of the threat the Bulldogs poses. The spent a lot of time analysing the plays made by the Bulldogs in their 38-6 win against the Dragons last weekend and have targeted specific plays they will seek to shut down.
"They are running hot at the moment and they have the best defence in the comp - that's probably why they are top," Warriors player Ben Matulino said.
His coach agrees but said his own side was high on confidence after a tight win over the Storm and then a rout of the Raiders.
"We have built up some momentum but I think there is no bigger challenge than against the Bulldogs this weekend," McFadden said.
"It's a really timely test for us. We need something like this to take us to another level."
McFadden has spent much of his training time since he was handed the mantle of coach pushing his players to their limits and then forcing them to think under pressure.
"It's just simple things, it's demanding more. Sometimes when you are in activities you don't quite see the whole picture but when you do you can see where there is room for improvement," he said.
"I have just stepped back and had a look at that and identified areas we can improve. Intensity was a huge one. Unless you train intensely you won't get it on the field.
"This is a very talented squad but they still, like any other squad, need the right environment to excel. That's what I am trying to do. I am trying to give them an environment where they can play their best footy."
McFadden said Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds was a key man for the Warriors to target.
"We have obviously got a plan around how to minimise his impact but he's a great competitor and he will have some impact on the game."
Warriors wing Ngani Laumape said the team would have to be on task for the full 80 minutes to get a win.
"If we do what [McFadden] has given us as the game plan, we will be sweet."