Crounlla Sharks still have some bite in them
The Warriors confront their latest NRL hoodoo-breaking assignment tomorrow as the bottom-placed Cronulla Sharks pose arguably an unexpected obstacle to enhancing their top eight aspirations.
Hosting a opponent under the control of their second caretaker coach for the season, a line-up depleted by injuries and the sacking of a marquee player - plus one with the worst defence in the competition, suggests the Warriors should automatically bank two points at Mt Smart Stadium.
Yet the Sharks have emerged as a bogey team for a Warriors roster with aspirations of qualifying for the post-season for the first time since they made the grand final in 2011.
History suggests the trans-Tasman journey holds no fears for a Cronulla side that has won their last two games in Auckland, including a 45-4 thrashing in 2012.
The Sharks finished seventh that season and were fifth after completing the double over the lowly Warriors last year, so those wins might not have been surprising.
However, a 37-6 victory at Remondis Stadium in April did have shock value by ending Matt Elliott's tenure at the Warriors - it was an unforeseen victory that still has veteran halfback Jeff Robson perplexed.
Asked for a theory on why Cronulla seem to have the eighth-placed Warriors' number, the 31-year-old shrugged.
"I just know the boys really get up for that game because they know they've got a really big forward pack and they've got some really skilful backs," Robson said.
Since head coach Shane Flanagan was suspended in relation to the ongoing Asada probe before the season got under way, the Sharks have lost his original replacement Peter Sharp, who quit two days after five-eighth Todd Carney had his contract terminated.
The drama concerning Carney, who was sacked after a photo of him urinating was distributed on social media in June, temporarily took the focus off a coaching crisis and crippling injury toll.
Luke Lewis and Wade Graham joined the season-ending casualty list against Parramatta last weekend, leaving Robson, who made his first grade debut in 2004, to shake his head.
"I don't think I've ever seen it in my time playing footy - so many injuries and things going down in the one season," he said.
At least Paul Gallen makes the trip and only his ninth appearance of 2014 due to injury and Origin commitments.
"Any time we can have him in the team is a massive boost for us," said Robson, who also appreciated that Shaun Johnson was missing from a Warriors line-up that has already achieved drought-breaking wins in Townsville and Canberra this year.
Robson, the lead playmaker since Carney's demise, realised Johnson was a key player for the Warriors though former team-mate Chad Townsend was developing in his new home.
"I think Chad's been playing some really good footy and Tommy Leuluai is also a great player," said Robson, when previewing the halves battle.
Leuluai is the old hand compared with Townsend, and Robson also has an inexperienced fellow playmaker alongside, Christchurch-born 19-year-old and eight-game rookie Fa'amanu Brown.
"I try and take a bit of pressure off him so he doesn't have to think too much about organising. He can just play his natural game and take on the line," he explained.
Robson said controlling the ruck and the Warriors' big men was key while he was wary of the attacking plays offered by Sam Tomkins and Konrad Hurrell.
Advised Hurrell was out with a hamstring injury, Robson smiled for one of the few times this season.
"That is good for us. He's a little wrecking ball. That is good news for us."