What’s going on with this Warriors side? For years the Auckland-based franchise has been one of the most flamboyant in the NRL, sparky, unpredictable, but capable of going on ferocious try-scoring rampages which meant games were in play for longer than they should have been. It’s always been tough being a Warriors fan, simply because their inconsistency has historically sat somewhere between maddening and psychotic. But this season is shaping up far more predictably, and not in a good way.
The team currently sits tenth on the ladder, only one point outside the eight, for sure, but it seems a fair position a third of the way through the season based on the team’s performance, and while it’s a position we’re used to, the manner we’ve achieved it is wholly unfamiliar. The team’s averaging a shade under 18 points a game thus far this year, down from 21 in ’08 and and 25 in ’07. The last three weeks we’ve averaged just 14, and it feels like the entire attacking impetus of the team has dissipated.
When you’ve got players like Vatuvei, Jones, McKinnon, Hohaia and Ropati in your squad you should be able to score tries. But there’s an uncertainty about the Warriors attack at the moment which is brand new for ’09. Similarly, there’s an imprecision to the kicking game, a sense that we’re kicking because it’s the fifth tackle, and it’s the thing to do. But that we don’t really have a plan, or if we do, any faith in it.Fien’s kicking game has been pretty poor all year, overweight bombs landing beyond the reach of our wings, and Jones seems short of the much-vaunted time which has always been his trademark. Justin and I have had season tickets this year, which has been great on two levels. Firstly, I’ve yet to hear a word from that cliché-ridden tradesman Costigan this year, which is just the most tremendous relief.
I swear, if I never hear him talking about forwards ‘sucking in the big ones’ ‘two minutes out from oranges’ after ‘McKinnon diffuses a bomb’ it’ll be too soon. The most fucked-up thing is that apparently we fly the guy in each week. The bastard doesn’t even live here. When we have, in Alan McLachlan, one of the best commentators in the game, that really depresses the shit out of me.
Anyway, I digress. The second great thing about going to the Warriors home games has been the calls of some of the fans. The gruff-voiced guy who yells out ‘try time Warriors, TRY TIME’ or ‘smash ’em Warriors, SMASH ‘EM’ approximately every four minutes, and not always when we’re appropriately on attack or defence, is an all-time hero. But he’s got a foul-mouthed, bird-flipping challenger, all of 14 years of age, who sits about three rows back from us. In knowledge of the game and breathtaking vulgarity he’s off the chart, and I’m extremely pumped about the next home fixture to see what his latest zingers will be.
Thing is, I should be pumped more about the league than a couple of members of the crowd. I’m not alone in this. The atmosphere at Mt Smart this year is noticeably subdued. Of course we all lost our minds when Stacey’s kick sailed over against the Roosters, but those moments are precious few this season. While our defence has been very good (we’re seventh in the comp there, and conceding fewer than 20 a game), and that’s something to be proud of and maintain, the lack of a strong, creative offence is puzzling.
Just one example being offloads. We frequently lead the comp in this statistic, this season we sit 12th. There were times when we’d squeeze out an offload that would break your heart, the sheer lunacy of it. But others when it would set the team alight, and we’d disappear down-field, to score one of those trademark Warriors tries, the ball running across field and through multiple sets of hands.
Those moments have been too rare this season, and if we’re to make a run at the eight, and try and become a serious contender, we maybe need to recover some of the old unpredictable spirit. Not all of it – God knows we had some appalling defensive lapses to go with all those offloads. But enough to make teams wary of us, separate us from the pack. Maybe then this team can lift from its current doldrums, and become the brutal unit at both ends of the park that we were anticipating at the start of the year.
The Warriors are ranked seventh in the league for defence, and have conceded only 14 points a game these past few