Warriors coach Andrew McFadden concedes his tiring NRL team is missing injured hooker Thomas Leuluai just as much as star halfback Shaun Johnson.
The Warriors’ late-season freefall continued with a sixth straight loss on Saturday night, a 24-10 loss to Penrith.
Apart from a 10-minute period midway through the first half of the contest, the Auckland-based side looked bereft of ideas in attack and were held scoreless for the entire second half.
The Warriors are yet to post a win since Johnson went down with a season-ending ankle injury against Manly in round 20 but McFadden says his absence isn’t the only one they’ve felt.
Leuluai started in the first 10 games of the season before a ruptured ACL wiped him out mid-May.
“It’s not just Shaun. We’re missing Thomas Leuluai, who was our starting hooker. He was playing terrific before he was hurt,” McFadden said.
“We have to be better but look, take key people out of every team and see how they go.”
At 14-0 down on the half-hour against the Panthers, fullback Sam Tomkins led a mini-comeback with two key plays that led to tries – including his own first four-pointer of the season.
However, McFadden said Tomkins didn’t get much help after that.
“He’s trying hard. We’re just struggling to give him the opportunity and the quality of ball he needs,” he said.
“I thought our kicking game was really ordinary and that didn’t build any pressure on the opposition. Even when we did we just didn’t quite have that killer blow and let them off the hook.”
While the Warriors remain just two points behind 8th-placed Canterbury, who meet Gold Coast on Sunday, McFadden admitted his side face a mammoth task turning their form around with just three games remaining.
“It’s a challenge. There’s no doubt about it,” he said.
“We have our senior guys that are working hard and we have some young kids who are doing a fair job but they’re 23 rounds into the NRL so it’s tough for them.”