Early signs of trouble for Warriors

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 11/03/2013
Matthew Elliott
FAIRFAX NZ
BRAVE FACE: Warriors coach Matthew Elliott.

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Thomas Leuluai left the NZ Warriors for England's Super League after a tumultuous 2004 NRL season ended with a sixth consecutive defeat.

A successful stint followed with the Wigan Warriors - he won a championship and Challenge Cup final - and although the north of England provided a life-changing experience, his return to Auckland also proves time can unfortunately stand still.

Leuluai's comeback to the club where he launched his first-grade career in 2003 was never guaranteed to be a cause of celebration but the 27-year-old did not quite anticipate featuring in the Warriors' heaviest opening-round defeat since they joined the competition in 1995.

Parramatta's stirring 40-10 triumph in Sydney on Saturday night extended the Warriors' record losing streak to nine games.

Their first loss at Parramatta Stadium since a 40-4 drubbing in 2009 eclipsed Canberra's 24-8 victory in Auckland to kick off the Warriors' campaign in 2001.

That season culminated in their first appearance in the finals series and, while Saturday night may yet prove a good omen, already a place in this season's top eight appears unlikely.

Leuluai knew the Warriors were struggling, via television, before he returned home but he thought a new coach and an intensive pre-season had them on the right track.

"I thought we'd come a long way from where we started. We've trained pretty well. I don't know what to say.

"It's a big wake-up call. As a team we didn't turn up.

"First and foremost we have to focus on defence. There were tries coming from everywhere."

Warriors coach Matthew Elliott claimed he was satisfied with some aspects of a defensive effort that leaked seven tries, including a hat-trick to Jarryd Hayne, but surely won't be so diplomatic during a debrief process that will identify 36 missed tackles.

Elliott even prefaced his optimistic assessment with an admission: "It'll be hard convincing you of it but I feel fairly secure about that [defence].

"We did a lot of things exactly what we planned to do defensively. We've just got to do it for longer periods.

"When we play together collectively, like we did for some periods, then we've got it covered," said Elliott, who eventually made one criticism - and a damning one at that.

"We didn't have 13 guys on the park working as hard as the opposition.

"It's not a game where they got us strategically, they out worked us," he said, although he was confident that deficiency could be addressed before Saturday's match against the Sydney Roosters at Eden Park in Auckland.

Despite Elliott's upbeat approach, the Warriors' defence was breached regularly as Hayne and Chris Sandow, the Eels' two star players, generally ran amok.

Fullback Hayne recorded a game-high 183 metres and the elusive Sandow 93m.

No Warrior had a similar offensive impact although Pita Godinet was lively at dummy half when he deputised for top tackler Elijah Taylor.

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Todd Lowrie also had a solid debut as Micheal Luck's successor in the back row while Kiwis prop Ben Matulino put in a workmanlike shift, making 12 runs for 96m and 32 tackles.

Realising fans would be disappointed, fullback Kevin Locke pledged the team would improve via Twitter: "Thank you everyone that's faithful just 1 of those night (sic). Thought para played very well. Lesson learnt now hav to react & fix it." 

Meanwhile, that urgent rebuild will take place without strike weapon Manu Vatuvei.

He rolled his right ankle inside the opening quarter and scans suggest he may not be available until Johnathan Thurston's North Queensland Cowboys front at Mt Smart during round-four action on April 1.

The Warriors' management will be hoping Vatuvei recovers as quickly as halfback Shaun Johnson did from his elbow injury.

He was meant to be ruled out of the opening rounds but recovered sooner than expected.

Johnson's dubious reward was playing second fiddle to the imperious Sandow. Fairfax NZ

- Stuff

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