Don’t mention the National Rugby League (NRL) grand final.
The New Zealand Warriors are an upset win over Manly away from the club’s second grand final appearance after a golden run of four consecutive wins when they stared playoff oblivion in the face.
But their grizzled veterans weren’t allowing the team to dream, just yet, ahead of Saturday night’s Sydney Football Stadium showdown.
“It (a grand final) would be huge but I’m not even going to talk about it. It is hard not to look ahead but I’m very wary if we don’t win Saturday night, we may as well not have made the top-eight,” centre Brent Tate said today.
Standing in the way are the Sea Eagles, the most consistent team all year, coached by the wily Des Hasler and still hurting from a 34-8 hiding from Melbourne in last year’s grand final.
As the Warriors stormed away from the Sydney Roosters in the second half, winning 30-13 in Auckland a week ago, the Sea Eagles were relaxing, courtesy of their 38-6 demolition of the Dragons a week previous.
The Warriors are riding a wave of momentum, inspired by their departing legend Ruben Wiki, and more confident by the week after pipping the Storm then eliminating the Roosters.
Said coach Ivan Cleary: “Maybe (it gives the Warriors an edge). It’s hard to say and it comes up every year.
“History shows that teams that get some momentum from playing that tough do or die football week to week, but you’re also not too sure how much it takes out of you.
“There’s been teams that have gone in with weeks off and had a reasonably comfortable run who’ve done the job also.
“We feel like we’ve prepared pretty well confidence is high, but Manly would probably say the same.”
Manly are clear favourites with bookmakers and most Sydney league experts.
They have Dally M player of the year, halfback Matt Orford, pulling the strings, a devastating finisher in fullback Brett Stewart, big-hitting Kiwis centre Steve Matai and a lineup of tough, ball-playing back-rowers like Anthony Watmough, Glenn Hall and Glenn Stewart.
Then there’s the Beaver factor, aka Steve Menzies who’s as much a hero at Brookvale as Wiki is at Penrose. Win tomorrow and Menzies will play his 349th NRL match in the grand final, equalling Terry Lamb’s all-time appearance record.
The Warriors might be $3 outsiders but there’s plenty in their favour, too.
Wiki and Steve Price are the team’s unbreakable anchors up front; their defence is better by the week and they have matchwinners Manu Vatuvei — with 15 tries from 15 matches — and Wade McKinnon. Crucially, they’re also injury-free, while Manly centre Steve Bell battles a calf strain.
The SFS is a happy Warriors hunting ground too, with just one loss from their past eight matches there.
Price, who won a premiership in 2004 with the Bulldogs, said the past few weeks had been all about enjoyment and not looking past the next match.
“We haven’t had the luxury of having all home games, we’ve had to play away and we’ve had to keep winning to stay alive,” Price said.
“We’ve got some young guys who’d never played semifinals footy, and I don’t think they were nervous or overawed by it, they went out and had a good time.
“Every week that’s gone by they haven’t changed their attitude, and every individual’s contributing to the team’s performance which is pretty hard to stop.”
In the past three weeks, each of them effectively sudden-death, the Warriors conceded just 34 points.
Price said the only pointer he’d be giving to his youngsters was, enjoy yourself and don’t change a thing. Defence will win them the match, he said.
“You don’t want to look back having any regrets or any excuses, and I think every individual has done that over the last two weeks so I don’t think there’d be too many guys needing too much advice.”