Warriors' Feleti Mateo to ramp up the pressure
Being an impact player isn't something Feleti Mateo signed up for when he agreed to a contract extension at the Warriors last year, but he's carved out an important niche doing that in recent weeks.
Today against the Knights at Mt Smart Stadium he'll again be relied on to up the tempo when team-mates get tired and be the difference.
After an ordinary first four games of the season for Mateo, one of Andrew McFadden's first moves when he took over from Matt Elliott as head coach was to relegate him to the reserve grade NSW Cup.
For one of the most experienced and highest paid players at the Warriors, who was hoping to make it into State of Origin this year, it was a mighty fall from grace.
But rather than sulk, Mateo rediscovered himself, got his mojo back and played with more energy than he did in the first grade, pulling out those trademark offloads that established him as a top player.
Today will be his fifth game back in the first grade team and once again he'll be called upon to make an impact from the bench.
In the past four weeks, he's played for 36, 26, 25 and 29 minutes and he's increasingly becoming more of a factor.
"I'm just chipping away, trying to get more minutes," Mateo told the Sunday Star-Times.
"Obviously, I'm not playing for long in each game, but I'm trying to do my best with the minutes and providing for the team wherever I can.
"It's going step by step, there is always room for improvement and it's wherever the coaching staff steer me in a direction where I need to get help.
"I'm trying to get better each day and hopefully I'll get more time."
Mateo is too good a player to be stuck in reserve grade for an extended period and the club need him back at his best if it's going to have a successful season.
He, along with Dane Nielsen, became the scapegoats among Warriors fans for everything that was going wrong earlier in the season. While Mateo has fought his way back, Nielsen has a battle on his hands getting back in the team once he's over his injuries.
Reflecting on his time in the NSW Cup, Mateo feels it was a shock to his system he needed and was something that eventually paid off.
"I think it did," he said.
"Sometimes in people's careers you need that one step backwards to go two steps forward.
"I learnt a lot from going back and I enjoyed my time there. I had to take what I could from the situation and I think I did that well.
"I'm back in first grade now and enjoying my time."
So today, late in the first half Mateo will run on to the field. It should be a point where the Knights are fatigued and he can create some havoc, that's what his role in the team is right now - not to be an 80-minute player, but someone who can turn a game around in 30 minutes.
"A lot of guys that come off the bench can definitely make more of an impact in the back stages of halves and can turn the momentum of games," he said.
"I definitely feel that I need to pick the team up, even if we're up by 20," he added.
"I've got the fresh legs out there, so there's no reason why I shouldn't be out running around like a madman.
"So that's the plan when I get out there, to help wherever I'm needed."
GAME TIME WARRIORS v KNIGHTS
WHERE & WHEN Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, today, 4pm (live on Sky Sport X)
LAST THREE MEETINGS Warriors won: 28-12 26/05/2013 Knights won: 24-19 21/07/2012 Warriors won: 20-12 13/08/2011
LAST GAME Warriors: Won 24-16 v Titans (A) Knights: Lost 14-15 v Sea Eagles (A)
FORM Warriors: WLWWL Knights: LLLLW TAB ODDS Warriors: $0.00 Knights: $0.00
Sunday Star Times