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'Pumped for challenge': Warriors won't shy away from task ahead

Michael Burgess,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Apr 2024, 1:01pm

'Pumped for challenge': Warriors won't shy away from task ahead

Michael Burgess,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Apr 2024, 1:01pm

Rest, refocus and try to rediscover their winning recipe – quickly.  

That’s coach Andrew Webster’s plan for the Warriors, as they hope to rebound from a deflating Anzac Day 27-24 defeat to the Gold Coast Titans.  

If last week’s heavy defeat to the Dragons stung, this was even worse. On a special occasion – that the club and fans have craved for years – the team were bizarrely flat for the middle period of the match, conceding 27 unanswered points, before a late comeback. 

It continues a worrying pattern and Webster admits something is not right. 

“They are not playing the way they want to play right now – that is pretty obvious,” said Webster. “There is no hiding that; the boys aren’t hiding that, I’m not hiding it. Individual moments are killing us at the moment.” 

But he is opting for the carrot, rather than the stick, as he seeks a turnaround, ahead of probably the toughest stretch of the season, with three consecutive away games against the Knights, Roosters and Panthers, a home clash against the Dolphins then a trip to Townsville. 

“We’ve got three days off [now],” said Webster. “We could be really dumb and say ‘right, everyone in, we are going to train even harder over the next three days but the boys need a break. They are trying really hard, they’ve emptied the tank, they’ve had tough games.” 

Warriors captain Tohu Harris and head coach Andrew Webster talk to media after losing to the Titans. Photo / Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nzWarriors captain Tohu Harris and head coach Andrew Webster talk to media after losing to the Titans. Photo / Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz 

“We need to have three days off away from footy and then we need to come back with seven day turnarounds from there and get more practice; we haven’t practised much lately so looking forward to that.” 

It’s a rare situation for Webster, who has mostly had the golden touch. After losing only twice at Mt Smart in 2023, the Warriors have already recorded two defeats and a draw from four Auckland games this season. With a 3-1-4 overall record they have fallen off the pace and things could get harder, given the games to come. 

Webster was bullish, pointing to a negative streak last year, when they lost four of five games between round eight and 13. 

“I’m pumped for the challenge,” he said. “We have been in worse situations it’s just the expectation – like everyone talks about – is different. I understand that and that’s a good thing because people think we can do something, we think we can do something. We have to get back to being us.” 

Captain Tohu Harris denied the team was in a hole but admitted they have gone away from what they do well in terms of playing the long game. 

“We’re not staying in arm wrestle mode,” said Harris. 

The performance was doubly disappointing, given the occasion, with a sell-out crowd and a special feeling in the air. The pre-match ceremony was moving and respectful, with a spine-tingling rendition of the last post by Hayden Cullen from the New Zealand Army band. 

But after a fast start – with two tries in six minutes – the Warriors fell into a fug, with mistakes, poor defensive decisions and penalties. They eventually got going again but then couldn’t find the final flourish, after two quick tries had offered hope. 

“We made it really hard for ourselves,” agreed Webster. “I was proud of the fact they wanted to come back and kept competing but we need to ask ourselves why we are in that situation.” 

There were some tight calls, with a flashpoint coming in the 65th minute when Berry grounded the ball before the referee judged Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had knocked on, which wasn’t obvious from multiple replays. 

“I thought it went backwards off Dallin’s shoulder,” said Webster. “I thought it was going to go our way but you never assume and I am not blowing up or being critical about it.” 

As Webster assessed, the Warriors can’t leave themselves at the mercy of such fine margins, especially at home. The attacking execution was also patchy, especially in the last 15 minutes as they searched for the decisive try. 

“They were really aggressive, jammed outside in and we still threw some decent options at them,” said Webster. “We weren’t asking the questions we wanted to ask because we were chasing it but credit to them ... they scrambled hard and wanted to win.” 

Addin Fonua-Blake, Mitch Barnett, Dylan Walker, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck were the best of a struggling bunch, with too many other individuals struggling to deliver. 

Webster is a loyal coach but changes could be coming, though the casualty ward restricts his options. 

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 

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