Ban forces Matulino to find a new trick
He has lost one of his major weapons but Ben Matulino is philosophical about the outlawing of the shoulder charge.
The Warriors prop is one of the best exponents of the technique, with many opponents feeling the effects of the Matulino muscle over the last few seasons. Sky TV even devoted entire promotional segments to Matulino flattening players but that will now be consigned to history.
"I can see where they are coming from," Matulino told the Herald on Sunday. "If you pull it off it can be good - it fires up your team-mates and stops the momentum of the other team - but if it doesn't go to plan, it can be pretty ugly.
"It's probably not that good for me," adds Matulino. "I'm a one-trick pony - I don't have a massive step or a barnstorming run so I will have to come up with something else. I've been working on my goalkicking but I am not on the field for the whole 80 minutes so I would probably be fifth in line for that."
Unlike many of his contemporaries, the 23-year-old doesn't think the sport will look profoundly different under the new rules.
"I don't think it will change the game that much," says Matulino. "There are not that many massive shots being put in anyway - or not as many as people think. I know the fans will miss it but, for the players, I don't know if it will be that big."
Matulino has also copped some big hits in his time, and remembers being smashed by Luke Lewis particularly well.
"I ran onto an inside ball but he read it and I got knocked off my feet. I was laughing and was a bit embarrassed. It looks like it hurts a lot but often when you are grabbed and thrown to the ground, it hurts more than just a straight shoulder charge."
Matulino returned to pre-season training two weeks ago but it didn't exactly go to plan. Coming back a week earlier than he was due, Matulino fainted on his first day back, after a gruelling track session. The team had completed 10 400m sprints when Matulino suddenly felt light-headed and slumped to the ground.
"I went to shake Manu [Vatuvei's] hand after I finished the session and I actually collapsed," says Matulino. "Ruben [Wiki] and the physio had to carry me back to the doctor's rooms [at the Millennium Institute]. I can remember the first few laps but not much beyond that. I know I was at the back of the group but not much more."
"He came back with a virus, ran 10 400s and got a bit light-headed at the end of it," says coach Matt Elliott. "It was circumstances more than anything. In your first session back, just because you have been a bit crook you don't want to pull out of the session. I would have preferred he said, 'I'm not feeling well' and pulled out but, if you know Ben, he is not going to do that."
Matulino says he has been reassured by talking to Ruben Wiki, who told him he had a similar experience in his first Warriors pre-season session. Matulino has dropped a few kilos due to the virus - "not the best way to lose weight but I'll take it" - and was eased back into pre-season work last week.
The Warriors completed another gruelling session at Bethells Beach yesterday, hitting the steep dunes for the second time this month. Last Saturday, the NRL squad and the Junior Warriors completed part of the Lydiard Heritage run in the Waitakere Ranges, including the notorious Devils Elbow, which features what seems like an endless hill.
Starting at 7.30am, the players completed a 13.5km run flanked by safety cars at both front and back as they gradually dispersed along West Coast Road. Super-fit hooker Nathan Friend was in the leading bunch, along with a few of the Junior Warriors.