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Blair gets smart with 'controlled aggression'

After missing the Warriors’ July 21 capitulation to the Titans on the Gold Coast courtesy of his second suspension of the season, Adam Blair acknowledged he needed to be smarter with his aggression.

But he refused to completely alter the way he plays.

The Warriors enforcer has delivered on his promise of defensive discipline without compromise – a massive hit on Dragons winger Jason Nightingale proving a bone-shuddering exclamation mark and a handy case in point - in the historic win over St George Illawarra in Wollongong the very next weekend.

But while the Warriors have gone unbeaten since his return and are favoured to continue their top-four charge against the struggling Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, the experienced forward has been forced to continually adjust his game – if only to keep up with jack-in-the-box halfback Shaun Johnson.

After starting at prop in his first three matches as a Warrior this season, the 32-year-old Kiwis captain’s next 15 appearances were at lock before he tucked into the second row in last weekend’s 20-4 win over the visiting Knights

Blair joked that getting the unlucky-for-some No.13 off his back played a role in his try-scoring contribution from the second row before conceding Johnson’s hand in the game-turning four-pointer against the Knights probably had more to do with it.

As a 41-Test veteran, it’s not as if he is unfamiliar with Johnson’s off-the-cuff approach but it doesn’t make it any easier trying to read the fleet-footed playmaker’s next move. 

Blair gives Warriors the lead

"Yeah, when you know what Shaun’s doing," Blair retorted, to a chorus of knowing laughter, when it was posed to him that it must be fun playing off the Warriors halfback.

"Shaun’s a special player and at times he does special things that not everyone can do. It’s that timing that needs to be spot on. If not, as we saw at the weekend, Bealey [centre Gerard Beale provided the last pass for Blair] and I just jumped underneath him and got lucky with the try." 

Johnson has called for a more "instinctive" Warriors performance in Sunday’s stoush against the struggling Bulldogs.  

Blair showed in the Knights performance he’s ready to up the attacking ante by riding on the coat-tails of Johnson and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the Dally M Medal contender’s 50th match for the Auckland side. 

"Shaun’s that player that can see those things that not many other players can do, so for us it’s just about jumping on the back of it and hopefully something comes of it," Blair said. 

From a personal standpoint, Blair is enjoying the increased freedom on the fringes.

"I guess it is understanding the right lines and the calls and the timing," the former Storm, Tigers and Broncos veteran said. 

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"You know it’s a fair change from the middle. Normally the ball is in my hands and I’m doing a lot of stuff through the middle but out there it’s timing off Shaun, running the right lines, making sure I’m not impeding on opposition players so we don’t get penalised for obstruction and stuff like that."

The hardest thing now for the Warriors, Blair concedes, will be staying focused as they approach the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and especially with two of their last three regular-season matches against teams outside the eight.

They finish the season with repeat Friday night home games against the fourth-placed Panthers and 10th-placed Raiders.

“We have to focus on what we do really well and forget about who we’re coming up against."

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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