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Defensive tweaks give Warriors new hope

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 3/03/2017 Angelo Risso
Simon Mannering © Getty Images Simon Mannering

Simon Mannering has rolled into south Auckland to report for Warriors pre-season training 13 times since 2005.

As such the Nelson native knows fairly well how one shuttle run can blur into the next.

But the 30-year-old can sense something a bit different in the air as a new NRL season dawns under Stephen Kearney, the club's fifth coach since 2011.

It's nothing too drastic, but it's enough to suggest the club is closer to their 2011 grand final performance than any of the pedestrian campaigns that followed.

"Little changes, not a massive revolution, but little tiny changes," Mannering said.

"Defence isn't re-inventing the wheel, it's your desire and working bloody hard."

Yet it might as well be for the Warriors, who conceded more than four tries a game on average in 2016 and lost their last four games to slump to 10th.

Only two sides - the Tigers and this year's round-one opponents Newcastle - managed to give up more four-pointers over the same period.

In response Kearney has personally taken over as defence coach and implemented a new structure, which paid dividends in last fortnight's 26-6 trial win over the Titans.

But on the flipside, the Auckland boys had earlier flopped at home in the Nines and threw away an 18-point lead to lose to the Storm on the Sunshine Coast.

"Stephen's obviously come from a strong defensive background at Melbourne and Brisbane (but) I'm sure the majority of the teams are concentrating on defence," Mannering said.

"Games aren't won on how many points you score, it's how many you stop.

"We're seeing improvements through the trials and that's all you want."

Mannering will line up at lock against Newcastle on Sunday, with fellow ex-captain Ryan Hoffman and bruiser Bunty Afoa in the second row.

And despite the Hunter-based side's horrific 2016 form, winning one and drawing one of 24 games in one of the worst NRL seasons in history, the Warriors vice-captain is on red alert.

He said each side would have something to prove on day one, including Nathan Brown's youthful and already-dismissed Knights.

"It's a new slate for everyone so you could say the same about us - everyone's top of the table," Mannering said.

"You don't buy into any of that, we're just excited to be playing at home."

A win at Mount Smart Stadium will give the Warriors their first round-one NRL victory since 2009.

STATS THAT MATTER:

- The Warriors have won 10 of their 11 last home games against the Knights, scoring 24 points or more on seven of those occasions.

- The Warriors have failed to make the NRL finals on five consecutive seasons, having last made the eight in 2011 when going on to lose the grand final.

- Newcastle won just one NRL game in 2016, the first side to slump so slow since the Gold Coast Seagulls in 1993.

(SOURCE: FOX SPORTS LAB)

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