FELETI Mateo reads the Sydney press online every day. To remind him of what he’s not missing.
“Every day, there seems to be something about Parramatta,’’ the Warriors’ blue chip signing tells Rugby League Week. “Every other day, Hindy (Nathan Hindmarsh) is saying something or there’s a story about Haynesy (Jarryd Hayne).
“I read the Sydney papers every day and it takes me back. Here, there are no media interviews – at least not ones to do every day. There aren’t all the cameras at training.
“Not that they ever wanted to talk to me, I just watched. But having all the cameras at training can distract some blokes. Here, it’s all about the team and the game. There are no egos. No-one’s bigger than the team. You just concentrate on footy.”
Before we go any further, before we analyse the Warriors’ prospects for this year, talk about the interest generated by the opening round clash with Parra’, figure out whether the rugby union (sorry to swear) World Cup will damage the club’s profile, we have to stop Mateo here. What was that he said about egos? Was that an issue at the intersection of Victoria Road and O’Connell Street?
“Oh, not really,” he replies. “There have been a few characters come through the place while I was there. I wouldn’t say anyone had a giant ego but I would say that the fans and media did tend to build some players up and ignore others, push others into the background. They become unsung, they don’t get the recognition.
“I loved my time at Parra’, I’ve still got some great friends there and I talk to them all the time”
Ask coach Ivan Cleary what fans will notice that’s different about the Aucklanders this year and he’ll have no hesitation in answering with two words: “Feleti” and “Mateo”. “I guess what will change is Feleti and the way he can play the game,” said Cleary.
“We have definitely haven’t created a style of play to fit around Feleti. It’s more a case of how he fits in with us. We’ll have to come to grips with what he can do, the opportunities he can create. We’ll be doing that throughout the year.”
Cleary says Mateo, 25, and fellow Eel import Krisnan Inu, 23, may have been in a “comfort zone” at Parramatta after playing all their junior football there.
The Warriors were straight out of the finals with a loss at Skilled Park despite finishing fifth last year. Cue clichés about “scars” and “proving a point” and “disappointing end to the season”.
Actually, don’t cue them at all.
“I was pretty happy with last season and the improvement we made,” Cleary counters. “We won more games than in any year since 2003. Sure, results conspired against us but I’m a big believer that you finish where you deserve to.
“Last year there was no expectation on us. This year – we won the club championship in 2010 – there might be.”
Hooker Aaron Heremaia – who has Shaun Berrigan breathing down his neck in the selection room this year – agrees. “Finishing the regular in fifth was a huge improvement on 2009, we were happy.”
Mateo doesn’t just like the City Of Sails because of the absence of cameras. “The weather’s been good. Before I came here, I’d only spend a couple of nights here playing for Parra and it was cold and wet and we could never get a win.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t fancy the place.
“But since I’ve been here, it’s been fantastic. Everyone at the club is awesome and the people have been so friendly. I’m loving it. Krisnan’s loving it. It’s like a dream.”
And so to this Saturday, when Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney lines up against a Warriors side including Mateo and Inu.”It’s at Eden Park … everyone’s talking about it, it has a bit of a finals aspect to it,” says Heremaia.
Cleary says there’s no way more home games this year will be switched to the rugby union citadel and he’s not worried about losing home ground advantage.
Mateo: “From what I can see, Parramatta are playing a bit of a Melbourne style of football. Apparently they got flogged in the pre-season – which is what you’d expect from Stephen Kearney.
“I’ve got to say you don’t hear much about the rugby World Cup yet. Maybe that will amp up later in the year. But we’re entering the rugby union world going to Eden Park and a lot of people who aren’t really rugby league fans seem to be excited about the game.
“If we can play well, hopefully those people will keep coming. It can open doors. Rugby league is more fun to watch anyway, isn’t it? Who wants to watch a goalkicking contest?”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK