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Matulino still pinching himself

Published: 6:33AM Thursday September 25, 2008 Source: NZPA

Teenage second rower Ben Matulino is still pinching himself.

Twelve months ago, his involvement in the NRL play-offs was watching the Warriors on television in a Wellington pub.

Now he finds himself a regular starter for the same team, who are just one match away from a grand final.

"I still can't believe it, it still feels like a dream," he said.

"The emotions are sort of mixed. I'm a little bit nervous but also pretty excited to be in the finals."

Matulino, 19, had begun the year battling for a spot in the Junior Warriors' starting line-up for the inaugural under-20 National Youth Cup competition.

He went on to see two of his teammates, Sonny Fai and Russell Packer, make their NRL debuts, but didn't think his time for promotion would arrive this year.

However, come mid-June, coach Ivan Cleary called him up to make his first appearance off the bench away to Cronulla.

Matulino has stayed in the first-grade 17 ever since, progressing to the starting 13 in the return match against the Sharks last month.

In the preliminary final against Manly at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night, he will again partner Simon Mannering in the second row.

"It was one of my goals to play first grade but, realistically, I was aiming for next year," he said.

"There were a couple of injuries and I was called in as back up and it's gone on from there."

Matulino switched from rugby union to league at 16, because of lack of game time as a No 8 with the St Bernard's College first 15 in Lower Hutt.

He was signed by the Warriors two years ago and moved to Auckland at the end of last year.

In his 14 NRL appearances, Matulino has impressed as a strong runner with good ball security.

"I'm just trying to play error-free football, so we get more sets and more chances with the ball," he said.

"Ivan has told me to keep it simple and play my own game, don't play someone else's."

Matulino stays in regular contact with Junior Warriors, going to watch their trainings and hanging out afterward with his former team-mates.

The Junior Warriors have their own grand final qualifier at the SFS, playing Brisbane in the curtainraiser to the NRL fixture.

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