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While influential Kiwi forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona remains sidelined for the Storm, One New Zealand Warriors front rowers Addin Fonua-Blake and Mitchell Barnett know the matchup in the middle of the park will still be the biggest factor in deciding Saturday night’s round two match in Melbourne.

The Storm’s vaunted ‘Purple Wall’ kept reigning premier Penrith scoreless in round one last week.

It was the first time the Panthers had failed to score in a game since round 22, 2022, when the Storm again shut them out taking that game 16-0.

The foundation of the Storm’s season-opening 2024 victory was laid in the middle where co-captain Isaah Yeo was the only member of Penrith’s star-studded forward pack to run for more than 100m.

“They’re physical so we’ve got to match them physically,” said Barnett, when asked about his forward pack’s preparation for round two.

“We’ve got to nail our roles and it should go a long way to leading to a good contest.”

They’re physical so we’ve got to match them physically

Mitchell Barnett One New Zealand Warriors prop

Reflecting on the One New Zealand Warriors’ round one performance and where they can improve, Fonua-Blake’s attention remained on the forwards.

“Our defence to start the second half wasn’t good enough,” he said.

“They rolled us pretty easily through the middle so we (need to) take it personal this weekend and get stuck in.”

The absence of Asofa-Solomona and five-eighth Cameron Munster have been talking points to start the NRL season but the Warriors’ focus is firmly on who will be on the field for the Storm on Saturday night.

“They got the job done last week without them, … and you can’t go into a game thinking about who they don’t have,” said Fonua-Blake.

AFB straight back to his damaging best

“They’re a dangerous team and they’ve been at the top of the ladder for a long time, so I’m sure whoever comes into that team is going to do a job.”

Storm youngster Jonah Pezet is again in the lineup in place of Munster for just his ninth NRL game but his presence has not distracted Fonua-Blake from his main target.

“I can’t take my eyes off those big forwards in the middle,” he said.

“Obviously the edges can worry about who’s playing on the edge, I’ve just got to worry about the four big fellas in the middle.”

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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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