Centre Brent Tate is a National Rugby League finals veteran, but even he’s been “blown away” by the buzz around the New Zealand Warriors this week.
The Warriors host the Sydney Roosters in Auckland tonight with the winners progressing to a showdown next week with Manly for a place in the grand final.
They are favourites to get past the Roosters, a surprise scenario given that they had struggled all season simply to stay in playoff contention.
But their stellar result in Melbourne last weekend, when against the odds they toppled the highly fancied Storm 18-15, changed everything.
Victory at Olympic Park gave them an unexpected return to Mt Smart Stadium and produced a frenzy among their fans.
The ground will be packed with a capacity crowd of 26,000 after tickets sold out in less than 15 minutes on Tuesday.
Before arriving at the Warriors at the start of the year, Tate had had seven straight seasons of finals football with Brisbane, including a premiership-winning campaign in 2006.
But even he was taken back by the excitement over the Warriors post-Melbourne.
“It’s blown me away,” Tate said.
“There’s such a buzz around the place. It’s very exciting.”
Tate warned that the flipside was the need for the Warriors to guard against being overwhelmed by the hype.
“It’s such a great feeling, but it’s also a challenge for us to keep it in check.”
One thing the Warriors wouldn’t be crushed by was the weight of expectation, Tate said.
They stopped worrying some time ago about the need to win and their position on the ladder.
Instead, they concentrated on enjoying themselves on the football field and it had worked.
“We just improved out of sight,” Tate said of the Warriors’ present run of nine wins in their past 11 starts.
“I think we’re a team that, when we’re having fun, we go pretty well.”
For second rower Logan Swann, the sudden-death clash with the Roosters will mark an unexpected third farewell from the home fans.
Swann, 33, got his first when he left at the end of 2003 for three seasons in the English Super League.
He got his second send-off three weeks ago, along with Ruben Wiki and Wairangi Koopu, at the Warriors’ last home match of the regular season.
“I was joking with a mate the week before, saying wouldn’t it be funny if I got another farewell,” Swann said.
“It’s come to fruition and it’s going to be huge.”