Warriors determined not to let Panthers collapse define their season
The Warriors went through the painful task of reviewing last weekend's record collapse against the Panthers on Tuesday and no-one was immune from scrutiny - not even Stephen Kearney.
The Auckland club undid a month of solid progress in stunning fashion as they blew a 22-point halftime lead in Penrith, which the coach admitted left him questioning his own preparation as much as he did the players' performance.
All eyes are now on how the Warriors respond to the lessons dished out by the Panthers. Although, their hopes of immediately bouncing back against the Dragons in Hamilton on Friday have already been dealt a blow with Simon Mannering, Solomone Kata and Manu Vatuvei ruled out due to injury.
"You take your eye off the ball in this competition and you'll get your bum kicked. The lesson is making sure we don't do that (again)," Kearney said.
"I've got to put my hand up too, was it something I said at halftime, was it the preparation heading into the game?
"But it's not about pointing the blame, we're all in this together working our way through this journey. It's about owning the performance and moving forward."
Veteran prop Jacob Lillyman, who labelled the defeat the most disappointing in his nine years at the Warriors, insisted nothing was glossed over in the review, which was led by the leadership group.
Lillyman said the 28-6 halftime score flattered his side as they scored two tries through intercepts, while the Panthers also had a player sin binned in the first half.
"And I guess that caught up with us in the second half," he added. "A lot of it was around our defence and our contact, we were bouncing out of tackles, we weren't tight - things like that which just snowballed.
"They're a quality attacking side, we just gave them far too many opportunities and they made us pay."
How much of an impact such a demoralising defeat has on the Warriors' season will only be determined in the coming weeks.
But there is no doubt they need a big response against the Dragons, who beat the Warriors 26-12 in round four, to quickly move on.
Kearney confirmed Mannering (hamstring), Kata (calf) and Vatuvei (calf) would not take the field in Hamilton, but should all be pushing for selection against the Broncos next week.
It continues a frustrating time for Vatuvei in particular after the big winger was due to play just his second game of the year against the Panthers only to pull up lame during the captain's run.
While those injuries limited some of his options, Kearney refrained from making wholesale changes and was adamant the players deserved the chance to make amends.
He did, however, make the interesting call to bring Tuimoala Lolohea onto the extended bench after the out-of-favour utility had his request for an early release to his contract denied for the time being.
"I'm not going to let 33 minutes determine the work that we've done over the last six or seven games," he said. "I understand it's a tough competition and we've just got to make sure that we keep sticking to our process."
The match against the Dragons marks a huge milestone for prop Ben Matulino, who is set to become just the fourth player to make 200 appearances for the Warriors.
The Wests Tigers-bound forward follows Stacey Jones and current teammates Mannering and Vatuvei in joining the elite club.
Meanwhile, with Kata out, David Fusitu'a switches from the wing to the centres, allowing Ken Maumalo to return to the wing after a week in reserve grade. Bunty Afoa, who started on the bench against Penrith, has been named to start at loose forward.
Warriors: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (C), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Blake Ayshford, David Fusitu'a, Ken Maumalo, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, James Gavet, Issac Luke, Jacob Lillyman, Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman, Bunty Afoa. Interchange (from): Nathaniel Roache, Sam Lisone, Ligi Sao, Ben Matulino, Charlie Gubb, Mason Lino, Albert Vete, Tuimoala Lolohea.