17 Apr 2024

'We'll just fight on' – Warriors' squad depth set to be tested

11:49 am on 17 April 2024

If there were any concerns about why Andrew Webster had insisted on keeping as many players as he did over the off-season, they should be put to rest now. Any other season, the loss of four forwards at once would constitute a crisis at Mt Smart, but coach Andrew Webster has still been able to name a strong squad for Friday night's clash with the Dragons in Wollongong.

"The game's hard at the moment, 65 minutes of ball in play," Webster said about the attrition rate that's seen Marata Niukore, Dylan Walker, Bunty Afoa and Jazz Tevaga sidelined. "The boys are working so hard, the NRL's gone to another level and it's a real adjustment and there's a lot of injuries in the league at the moment. We're no different and we'll just fight on."

Webster did admit that the situation was something that he saw as a good test as a coach.

"I get excited for the challenge, but I'm gutted for the individual that's injured. I'd rather we had … every single player available each week. It's a challenge each week when someone else gets an opportunity."

Jacob Laban of the Warriors.

Jacob Laban of the Warriors. Photo: Photosport

Webster highlighted the impact of young prop Jacob Laban, who debuted against the Rabbitohs.

"Jakey, his last two games, if we had our full squad I don't know if he'd be playing yet. Are we a true squad? We're not going to win it just with our best 17 available, we've got to win it with every single man in our squad."

The Warriors have a short turnaround this week, which Webster said had meant a different focus at training.

"We're not going to be working on the x's and o's, we're just working on the mental side ... making sure we're ourselves for longer periods. I felt like our three wins we were definitely ourselves, played the way we wanted to play…on the weekend I felt like there were just some mental lapses. We need to bring that mental concentration."

One area of focus that the Warriors have been on both sides of is the NRL's crackdown on kicker protection. Freddy Lussick has been suspended for four weeks after a collision with Lachlan Ilias in a reserve grade game left the Rabbitohs player with a broken leg. Then, on Saturday night, Manly prop Josh Aloiai clattered into Shaun Johnson, which dramatically gave the Warriors a shot at goal to send the game to golden point extra time.

"I think the key is having your eyes open and knowing where their legs are," Webster said.

"The reaction if a leg or a boot's about to kick you in the face is to turn your head, once you do that you lose sight of their limbs … then you're not safe …. you're not trying to tackle or hurt the player, but it can get dangerous."

Webster wasn't getting caught up in either the Dragons' erratic form or the off-field drama surrounding centre Zac Lomax's switch to the Eels, maintaining that the 14th placed side represents a real threat.

"The bit that we all see in the media is that Zac wants to leave. But don't know why, I think he wants to play a different position. I don't really but into what other clubs are going through because you're so worried about your own backyard…I think it's more of a drama for the media than anyone else because Zac's playing pretty bloody good footy at the moment."

St George-Illawarra Dragons v Warriors

Kick-off: 8pm Friday 19 April

WIN Stadium, Wollongong

Live blog updates on RNZ Sport

Warriors (five to be omitted): 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Rocco Berry 4. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Wayde Egan 10. Mitchell Barnett 11. Jackson Ford 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Tohu Harris

Reserves: 14. Chanel Harris-Tavita 15. Tom Ale 16. Jacob Laban 17. Adam Pompey 18. Zyon Maiu'u 20. Taine Tuaupiki 21. Ali Leiataua 22. Edward Kosi 23. Paul Roache