Ben Matulino’s contribution will be key if the Vodafone Warriors are to back up their outstanding display against Brisbane with another quality performance in Newcastle on Saturday.
The big front rower was originally named to start against the Broncos last Saturday but was ultimately shifted to the bench so head coach Andrew McFadden had an experienced trooper to call on when he made his first interchange.
The 27-year-old veteran was duly injected just short of the 20-minute mark with his side 12-0 ahead; he wasted little time aiding the cause – and helping his long-time front row colleague Jacob Lillyman in the process.
Seconds after coming on the field he carried the ball strongly, played it quickly and then hit it up powerfully again two tackles later, giving Issac Luke the chance to jump out of dummy half and roll in a grubber kick for Lillyman’s first try in more than three years, 78 games since his last in the opening round in 2013.
Up 18-0, it kept the Vodafone Warriors on a roll they sustained for most of the night en route to a memorable 36-18 victory.
There were standout efforts everywhere for the home side but the work in the middle third was the catalyst for what unfolded. In that area Matulino was an undoubted leader with 147 metres from 15 runs (the most by any forward) in the 42 minutes he was on the field. Throw in three off loads, two tackle breaks and invariably fast play the balls and he and his fellow middle men had the team marching forward relentlessly and even imperiously.
It was the fourth victory he has been part of this year, his numbers in each of the earlier wins underlining his importance whenever the Vodafone Warriors deliver.
In the 40-18 win over Newcastle in the fourth round he was the top metre gainer among all forwards, playing 70 minutes, making 139 metres from 19 runs and also coming up with 30 tackles.
In the golden point victory against the Sydney Roosters, he was on for 69 minutes, making 124 metres from 15 runs and backing it up with 34 tackles.
And in the 24-20 success against Canterbury Bankstown in Wellington he was solid again with 118 metres from 12 runs in a 45-minute effort.
Whether he starts or is used off the bench again at Hunter Stadium, Matulino’s task will be to deliver at least similar deeds again.
He’ll be making his 185th appearance, putting him one clear of fellow NYC graduate and Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough (currently injured) and on track to become the first former NYC player to bring up 200 career appearances. A foundation under-20 player in 2008, Matulino already has the honour of being the first to reach the 100 and 150 milestones.