Tony Kemp: Let's hear it for the Man-nering
Some people feel I'm pretty hard on the Warriors but I find it very hard to criticise Simon Mannering.
The skipper notches an incredible double for the Warriors today - 200 NRL games and 100 as captain.
Having just signed a four-year extension, who knows where these figures will end? In New Zealand terms, they could be astronomical given Simon's standing at the club.
I had the pleasure of giving Simon his NRL start back in 2005 although he wasn't too happy that he had to play on the wing. For me as a coach, I simply knew that he was the next-best player in my ranks and I had to get him in the mix somewhere.
He's gone on to play a fair few games in the outside backs, so I don't feel so bad about that now and Simon might even thank me for proving he had a bit of versatility to his game! He's certainly come a long way from being the shy young kid from Nelson who arrived at the club. He's now quite rightly regarded as one of the best Kiwi players in the world's toughest competition.
He brings so much to the Warriors and much of it isn't seen. He is more of a Kevin Campion-type player who does the little things that don't always get recognised.
He's had half a dozen coaches at the Warriors and I'd say with every one of them, Simon Mannering is the first name that goes down on the team sheet.
Some people have questioned his captaincy claims but I don't go along with them.
He's a follow-me type leader and I think the criticism he has copped in this department is just something that goes with the job. When your team isn't going well, it's the coach and captain who get the finger pointed at them. I find it hard to recall any game where Simon hasn't given his absolute all.
He is the sort of guy you build a team around and I'm sure that new coach Andrew McFadden is thinking that way as he plots a way forward for his Warriors side.
Simon's loyalty can't be questioned. Most clubs in the NRL would love to have this no-nonsense guy on their books yet he has stuck with the Warriors through thick and thin and his recently inked new deal sums up his attitude to New Zealand's franchise.
His landmark celebrations today give the Warriors plenty of motivation for their clash with Newcastle at Mt Smart Stadium.
The motivation factor for the Knights won't be nearly as high.
They are a club in crisis following the Nathan Tinkler funding shambles. When players and coaches aren't being paid, it's hard to fire up. Star player Darius Boyd has made that clear.
As a former Knights player, it's very sad to see the club in this situation and let's hope they can find a way forward.
Whether that includes super coach Wayne Bennett being at the helm remains to be seen.
I wouldn't be surprised to see him return to the Dragons. The early sacking of coach Steve Price by the St George-Illawarra outfit certainly opens a door for Bennett to return to the famous Dragons club.
But that's in the future. Right now, he's got his hands full trying to keep the Knights in the right mindset to face a Warriors team who will clearly see this as a massive opportunity.
Halfway through the season the Warriors are well placed to make a push for the top eight. Today's game is the sort of match that you have to take advantage of if you are to be a force when it comes to the business end of the competition.
The Warriors wouldn't want to be looking back on this as one that got away, and not just for the Simon Mannering factor or the fact that they are returning to their spiritual home for the first time this year.
This game represents more than just a chance for a victory. It is an opportunity to really put some positives in your points differential. The competition is so tight around the six to 12 positions that the points for and against ingredient could be crucial when it comes time to sort out the final eight.
It's also State of Origin time and that's when the Warriors have to make the most of opposition absences and tired bodies.
Speaking of Origin, what a cracking opening win by NSW in Queensland.
I suspect the NRL bigwigs will have quietly breathed a sigh of relief. The result has injected massive interest into a competition that was being threatened by Queensland's ongoing dominance.
NSW can now seal the deal in Sydney on June 18 though no-one will expect Queensland to lie down.
The first match showed how competitive this series is and will continue to be. This was basically two Australian test teams going at it, representing total professionalism.
In the end I think Laurie Daley's bold selection policy won through. He has the Morris brothers at the top of their game, he rewarded the form halves combination and he picked a pack in their prime.
It was a young New South Wales team going against an aging Queensland outfit.
The ball is now in Mal Meninga's court and it's going to be fascinating to see how he reacts.