Warriors touch down in Christchurch
The Penrith Panthers have been making themselves at home in Christchurch over the past few days, but the Warriors arrived in the city this afternoon determined to prove they are still New Zealand’s team in Saturday’s Round 10 clash at a sold-out AMI Stadium.
The Panthers have won the hearts of Canterbury residents young and old for getting out in the community and mixing with school kids, but the Warriors have also had people on the ground this week doing their bit in the community engagement stakes.
“I think that it’s obvious it’s important (to the people of Canterbury) given it’s been a sell-out for a while, and that’s certainly exciting for the players,” Warriors coach Andrew McFadden told the media gathering at Christchurch Airport.
“It’s (the Panthers’) home game, they’ve brought it here and they’ve taken the opportunity to promote it.
“We’ve certainly had some people down here – Simon Mannering’s been down here for three or four days – so it’s important for us, but our priority is our performance and our preparation.”
Captain Ryan Hoffman was adamant that patriotic pull would ensure the Warriors garner the vast majority of crowd support from the Cantabrian throng.
“We’re the New Zealand Warriors, aren’t we?” Hoffman asked rhetorically.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to bring the brand to Christchurch.
“We’re not just Auckland’s team, we’re New Zealand’s team, and getting the chance to play (in other New Zealand cities) this year – we’ve been to Wellington, we’re going to New Plymouth next week –taking the brand all over the country is great for the club.”
The Warriors have a poor record in New Zealand away from their Mt Smart Stadium base, winning just six of 24 at alternate venues around the country.
After the first premiership match was staged in Christchurch in 1996 – a 34-22 loss to Balmain at Lancaster Park – the Warriors took a decade to notch their maiden win in the south, although they currently boast victories in their last two visits here.
In 2010, in torrential rain and freezing conditions at the former AMI Stadium, the Warriors and Sydney Roosters turned on a thriller, with Kevin Locke’s incredible try in the dying seconds snatching a 20-18 victory.
Warriors prop Ben Matulino and Panthers forward Jeremy Latimore (who was then with the Warriors) are the only survivors of that encounter who will line up again on Saturday evening.
“Obviously we’ve had mixed success here,” McFadden said.
“We’ve played the five games before this and had two wins.
“It’s great to be back, it’s been a while between drinks. We certainly want to put our best foot forward this time.
“We’d like to put (our poor record) in the past. We had a good win against the Bulldogs in Wellington, and we’ve just got to back it up this week.”
Hoffman brushed aside suggestions the club’s past results could count against them.
“That’s before my time,” the veteran backrower said.
“People were saying hoodoo before we played in Wellington – the Warriors have a lot of hoodoos, they were saying it again before the Dragons, too.
“That’s all in the past, this is the 2016 Warriors.”
The Warriors have endured a highly publicised, controversial period off the field following their Anzac Day thrashing at the hands of demolition. And although the fallout continues to dominate the news cycles, McFadden and Hoffman affirmed the staff and playing group have put it all behind them.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks, we showed some spirit against St George and our biggest priority is that we bring that spirit again here,” McFadden said.
“We’ve dealt with it as a club now and our focus is really playing football now.
“(Ben Matulino and Bodene Thompson) have trained very well. I expect them to go out there and be enthusiastic.
“They’ve hurt their teammates and they owe it to them to put in a big performance here.
“I think it’s something that’s happened to us that’s galvanised us. I think it’s important that we move forward as a group and start to look to the rest of the season.”
The skipper echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“The whole club has handled the last two weeks really, really well.
“I like the positive feel at the club, but in the end it comes down to what we do on the football field.
“I think we responded well in the Dragons game, but that’s done now and we’ve got to move on to the Panthers this week and improve that 4-5 record.”
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE