Stephen Kearney braced for full-strength Storm as Warriors look to snap drought
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/113284184/-

2019-06-06 03:38:02

Stephen Kearney is not expecting any favours out of State of Origin as the Warriors search for an elusive win over the high-flying Storm on Saturday.

The Origin period has long been seen as an opportune time to face Melbourne, who again come to Auckland sitting atop of the table.

But with the 'big three' of Billy Slater retired, Cameron Smith no longer playing rep football and Cooper Cronk now at the Roosters, the toll that the annual interstate grudge match takes on the club is perhaps not what it once was.

They still had four players involved in Wednesday's series opener - Cameron Munster, Will Chambers, Josh Addo-Carr and Felise Kaufusi - with only Chambers in doubt to back up.

But with Craig Bellamy able to call on a strong Kiwi contingent, including Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Brandon Smith and Jahrome Hughes - not to mention the maestro Cameron Smith - Kearney has no doubt the Storm will be at their best.

"It's about right across the park, isn't it," the former Melbourne assistant coach said.

"We know we've got to do a really good job on Jesse and Nelson, they've got a little pocket rocket there who comes off the bench and does a fairly good job for them too in Brandon.

"We know what we're in for and we're preparing that way."

Last week's bye gave the 12th-placed Warriors time to address the deficiencies in their game. And, after registering just four wins during the first half of the season, they need to get a move on if they are to stay in finals contention.

Sharpening the execution of their gameplan was a key focus and Kearney was confident strides have been made in that area.

Without a win in their last three matches at Mt Smart, the Warriors will also be out to break a horror seven-game losing streak against Melbourne.

They came agonisingly close the last time they met on Anzac Day, with a controversial late penalty - which the NRL later admitted was a mistake - and Brodie Croft field goal saving the Storm at the death.

For Kearney, that result simply emphasised the level they need to reach to come away with the two points.

"I thought that was a real courageous performance. It's going to take similar courage on Saturday, coupled with the areas that we need to improve from our last game against the Broncos in terms of our execution," he said.

"The one thing about the opposition this week is you know you've got to execute well against them for the full 80 minutes. That's what we're aware of and what we've planned to do."

Heavily undermanned on Anzac Day, the Warriors will be close to full-strength this weekend with Jazz Tevaga (ankle) and Nathaniel Roache (back) the two major absences.

​Tevaga could be available for next week's trip to the Gold Coast, while Roache's return was delayed due to a personal issue.

This will be the third-straight game the latter has missed, allowing Issac Luke to re-establish himself in the No 9 jersey after being dropped last month.

Kearney held concerns over Luke's defence at the time but has been pleased with his response on both sides of the ball.

"Sometimes that's what it takes, a bit of a kick in the backside to get yourself going again," he said.

"The last couple of games there has been improvement. The real strength of his is his running game and I thought prior to then it wasn't quite at the level that we expect from him and he expects from himself. So that's been a real focus for him."

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