The challenge of winning finals matches in Sydney has cruelled New Zealand-based teams in all grades for 20 years but according to their captain, they now boast the manpower to make history.
On the back of an ability to win on both sides of the Tasman, the Warriors rose to second place on the Intrust Super Premiership NSW ladder in 2017. Led by classy halves Mason Lino and Ata Hingano, the Auckland-based side had been in form throughout the regular season, but the absence of both in the opening week of the finals saw them convincingly beaten by the Panthers. The duo’s return brought immediate success as the Warriors comfortably defeated Newcastle on Sunday night.
“Obviously we missed a few players last week,” Lino tells NSWRL.com.au. “But good to have the full squad back and I think it was a good first hit-out together.
“It’s always a big boost (having returning players) – it gives a lot of confidence to our boys.”
Usual fullback Zac Santo, who joined the Warriors mid-season, was extremely impressed with the Warriors’ performance, also crediting Lino and Hingano’s inclusions.
“‘Atsa’ and ‘Mase,’ they steer the ship,” Santo says. “I was in the halves last week and I sort of had no idea where I was going.
“It makes me feel a lot more comfortable. I’m not really a half, I’m more of a running fullback so I love it at the back when ‘Mase’ and Ata are there.”
The experience of Lino and talent of Hingano are invaluable in attack, but it was the Warriors’ defence which was most impressive as they defeated the Knights 30-6.
“That was probably one of the best games I’ve played in for the Warriors since I’ve been there,” Santo says. “I just thought our defence was really good. We just wanted to get good line-speed and good push in the tackle.
“Last week we got dominated in the middle and we made it our mindset to get over them this week.”
The Warriors will now prepare for the monumental task of taking down Wyong in a blockbuster preliminary final on Sunday afternoon. Like the Panthers and Knights, the Roos played out a draw with the Warriors earlier in the season – which Santo is desperate to make amends for.
“We want to get one back on them,” Santo adds. “We had them in that game (in Round 24) and we sort of let it slip, so it’ll be good to get one on them next week.”
The Warriors and Roos do battle at Leichhardt Oval from 1:05pm AEST on Sunday, with the match to be live streamed on NSWRL.com.au. The highly-anticipated clash will determine the first spot in the decider, to be played at the same venue on NSWRL Grand Final Day.
The NSWRL senior competitions’ finals series, covered like never before on NSWRL.com.au and the NSWRL Facebook page, culminate on Grand Final Day at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday 24 September. Be there to witness history, with tickets just $10 for adults and children under 12 free.