Warriors prepare for critical game against Houston
HERRIMAN, Utah — The Utah Warriors back line, highlighted by Joe Mano’s 10 tries on the season, have played a key role in the team’s success this year as the team looks to take on a critical matchup with the Houston SaberCats this Saturday.
With just five games left in the 2023 season, and Utah sitting fourth in the Western Conference standings with 33 points to Houston’s 36, getting a win and then some on Saturday is paramount.
According to Warriors coach Greg Cooper, the weight of this coming game has certainly not been lost on anyone involved.
“It’s a really important game based on the fact that a win for us, and if they don’t get a bonus point, then we really hinder them,” Cooper said. “So you can feel it in the training this week. We know we’ve been playing reasonable rugby, but we just haven’t had that feeling of being third, and now we’re really close enough, and I think that’s added a little bit of edge this week.”
Utah is in its current position due to securing some strong wins earlier when injuries and other factors went against it — namely in securing a 30-24 win over the SaberCats back on April 8 in Houston.
It was a game where Utah really asserted itself physically with several players stepping up in key roles to secure what many considered an improbable win at the time.
“The big thing, for me, is that we knew going in there that if we matched their physicality that we’d have a good chance, and that’s what happened,” Cooper said.
One of the players held out of the win versus Houston was Mano, who sustained a head injury the week prior, but will be a full go this Saturday, bringing his electric play on the outside which has been a revelation for the Warriors.
“He’s getting better every week and hats off to him for putting in the work,” said Warriors flanker Lance Williams about Mano. “He’s adapted so much to the system we’ve put in place here, and he’s kind of like a cheat code. We do the work and then pass it out to him, and then he touches it down for us.”
Mano is just one part of what has proved a resurgence back group, led by the coaching of Warriors assistant coach Shaun Davies, who has created an ideal environment for his players, according to Cooper.
“We have a really good challenging, but happy environment, and I think that’s a great combination,” Cooper said. “You can’t just be happy, you have to be accountable and you have to be challenged, and that’s what (Coach Davies) has provided.”
Other standouts on the Warrior backline have included Caleb Makene and Mika Kruse, both of whom have transitioned and excelled in different roles this season, along with the additions of fly half Joel Hodgson and scrum half Conner McLeod. Other key contributors include centers Calvin Whiting, Logan Tago and Tyler Fisher in helping create a potent group capable of putting up a lot of points.
In taking on Houston, the backs will have to provide their best play in hopes of securing a critical win, along with staying consistent for the match’s duration.
“The critical thing for us is staying in the game for 80 minutes,” Cooper said. “We have to be better with the high ball than we have been because that is a great area of strength of theirs. They’re the best team in the competition in kicking and regaining, and we haven’t been good at diffusing that.”
UTAH WARRIORS VS. HOUSTON SABERCATS
DATE: SATURDAY, MAY 20
TIME: 7:30 PM MT
WHERE: ZIONS BANK STADIUM
BROADCAST: KMYU, TRN, 92.1 KOOL FM, ESPN960, ESPN700, KSLSPORTS.COM
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