The time has almost come, it’s almost here, the minute we’ve all been waiting for – finally all will be revealed. Well, actually, no. The announcement last week that Stacey Jones won’t be fit for the Warriors first round match against the Eels has made the announcement of their first round team a bit anti-climatic. That said, the time is fast approaching when, with all players fit, Ivan Cleary will have to show his hand.
Two key decisions are looming. Arguably the two most pivotal positions in rugby league, 6/standoff and 7/halfback, are up for grabs. After years of scraping by with moderately good (Stacey Jones excluded) halves combinations, this year the Warriors have been blessed with an embarrassment of riches.
Off season recruits Joel Moon, Liam Foran and Stacey Jones come up against incumbents Michael Witt and Nathan Fien. At one stage last year (around the time Fien was given permission to leave and Foran was signed) it looked like a Moon/Foran combination was assured. Times have changed.
Pretty much anyone who knows anything knows that there are three options for the two positions. Fien, Moon and Jones (although some, including me, would have put Hohaia in that category before last season, now you don’t want to “waste” the best utility back in the world in a fixed role).
Fien – as much as no one like to admit it (least of all Fien himself) the Warriors have treated Fien pretty badly recently. I’m not saying it should have gone any other way, it is, after all, professional sport and it’s all about the results, but no one’s fooling anyone when they say that it was all a smooth transition from “yes you’re staying” to, “please leave”, to “you must stay”.
It’s only Fien’s massive shift in form that justifies the treatment. Personally, I was never a big fan of Fien in the halves, I didn’t think he had the vision as a play maker, or the short kicking game. I’ve also never been a fan of his “jinking” runs across in front of the backline – dummy, dummy, tackle – (normally with a loss of metres and momentum). But I may have been wrong (possibly. I doubt it though).
Although I still don’t accept that he “led” us to the preliminary final last season, I do think those performances, coupled with the World Cup, plus his (reported) performance in the pre-season Titans game, make him a pretty solid option for one of the spots.
Jones – technically speaking Jones probably doesn’t have much of a claim to the number 7 position (I say 7 because Cleary has already confirmed that he won’t be playing at 6). He hasn’t played any real competitive games for more than 12 months (not including recent trials), and before that he spent two seasons in the Super (actually very super at all) League.
That said, Jones’ CV is strong enough to warrant serious consideration (note that the Tigers tried hard to get him at the beginning of last season). Having not seen him play for so long, any advocate has to base their arguments on past achievements – but those were some pretty serious achievements and you can make a strong argument that you might as well see what he’s got early on. If he doesn’t have it any more then at worst you lose a couple of early season games on the back of it. But think of the rewards if he does.
Moon – It’s funny how when a guy plays for another team he can seem like a serious dick (I’m thinking of Tate here), but as soon as he puts on a Warriors jersey you can suddenly see how great he really is (again I’m thinking Tate).
I get the feeling Moon might be like that. Last season I couldn’t stand him, he’s one of those over tanned East coast Australians who just looks like a winger. I also kind of get a BO taste in my mouth whenever I look at him. That aside, he comes with some serious plaudits – Cleary obviously thinks he’s got something because he’s started him (?) at 6 in every pre season game.
To his credit his stats out of those games have been pretty impressive and he also has a good kicking game (both field and place). That, added to his speed, size and agility (remember he played centre for the Broncos in the final series last year) and I can see why people are getting excited. To me, the hope is that he is the next Trent Barrett. Solid in all respects but extremely good defensively and running to the line. Combine that with a small number 7, and you may have the makings of a winning combination.
12 weeks ago, when my sleepless nights and workless days began, I was pretty sure that a Jones (7) and Fien (6) combination was the answer. Now I’m pretty fixed on Moon at 6. That leaves Cleary the pretty unenviable task of choosing between Jones and Fien. As it turns out Jones isn’t available due to injury for this week’s game against Parammatta. But what if Fien plays ok, not amazingly, but ok, and then Jones is fit? Then what?
At the end of the day it might not matter because Jones, whose always been prone to injury, may not be able to keep up with the weekly grind.
Being such a legend I think you have to give Jones a crack as soon as he can play. On account of that, I’d kick off with a Moon, Jones 6 and 7 combo. That of course leads to the inevitable “where do you put Fien” question? He can’t start ahead of Henderson at 9, and you’ll be hard to fit him and Hohaia into the reserves. And you can’t not play Hohaia. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured that out.
– Tim Bogle