Warriors have no room for Cleary sentiment
Forget the Kiwi connection, or any kind of fondness for the coach, this game against the Panthers means business for the Warriors.
Yes, Ivan Cleary might have been the last man to take the Warriors to a grand final and no less than five Kiwis will line up in his Panthers team tomorrow afternoon, but the Warriors, with coach Andrew McFadden, are breathtakingly close to being in the top eight.
A win, at their home fortress of Mt Smart Stadium, would put them inside the top eight.
Up against them is a Panthers team at or near the top of the table. History is also against the Warriors. They will do well to put out of mind the humiliating club record 62-6 defeat to Penrith last year.
The Panthers have an extraordinarily resilient defensive line, giving away only three line breaks a game. But, the Warriors have become experts at breaking through tackles, with the likes of Konrad Hurrell leading the charge.
However, the more surprising aspect of the Warriors' game in recent weeks is the defensive stranglehold they have developed.
Last week they managed to grind out a win against the Broncos - a game that Warriors teams of old would likely have lost - and a large part of that could be attributed to defence.
"You have to be a good defensive team if you want to be competitive in this competition," McFadden said.
"Certainly that's been a highlight of our football over the last couple of months. There have been a couple of little blips but generally we have been pretty consistent in that area. When we get our combinations right in attack and find some form there, I know we are a really high-quality team."
The Warriors will be without centre Ngani Laumape, who has been suspended for three weeks for a dangerous throw in last week's Broncos games.
His absence enables the much-maligned Dane Nielsen to return. Nielsen has been floundering in reserve grade but should relish the return to the top level.
McFadden said the team was excited to have Nielsen back.
"He has worked really hard, he is looking fitter and he is certainly very motivated. He certainly deserves his chance."
Nielsen will come up against Kiwi Dean Whare, which should be a stern test for both players.
McFadden said the Panthers were at the top of the table for a reason.
"They are a very well-balanced side, very consistent side and they can challenge you everywhere on the park.
"They have got a great kicking game, some good forwards some very handy outside backs - we are certainly going to have a very tough game this week."
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