No way out
It’s really tough to not let yourself get sucked into this Warriors team right now. They’re a side which wasn’t expected to do much at all this season by pundits or fans, with an awkward combination of very raw kids; over-the-hill, injury-prone vets clogging salary space and head cases in their line up. They had just changed captains in the off season, and there were whispers about the coach and the front office staff – John Hart in particular.
So to find ourselves well inside the eight in mid-July is surprising to say the least. Even better, they’ve done it with most of their salary cap on the sideline. The team which won against Parramatta two weeks back had an average age of 23, and around 50 NRL caps apiece under their belt. Apart from Brisbane’s injury-ravaged start, there won’t have been many greener sides fielded this year. They were without captain Simon Mannering, Steve Price, Brent Tate, Joel Moon, Lance Hohaia, Jacob Lillyman, Kevin Locke, Sam Rapira and Wade McKinnon, who they’d parted company with earlier in the season. They’ve gotta be $2.5m, easy.
They got Mannering back for the weekend’s match away to Penrith, and turned out the most heroic defensive game I’ve ever seen. Shayne Hayne’s preening, patronising, astoundingly incompetent performance was exactly the kind of spanner which would have seen a slender 12-6 half-time lead become a 12-40 full-time thrashing in pretty much any previous Warriors team. We’ve never handled adversity particularly well round here. But despite what no less an authority than Bob Fulton called “the worst refereeing performance in the last 20 years”, those young dudes just put their heads down and tackled like animals for most of the second half. It put this year’s Origin to shame for tenacity, and created some of the most infuriating, enthralling sport you’ll in this or any other year.
It was a game that will become part of the side’s lore, that will live in the memory of fans forever. But it should also be a salutary lesson in where this club’s strength lies at the moment, and how it should spend its money. This winning streak is not being created by the big dollar Australian imports (though the attitude and work ethic of Michael Luck was written all over that win). It’s young, hard, unflashy home-grown kids who are doing it. They are deserving of their spaces, they’re playing together and for each other, they have incredible chemistry, and it is precisely the latter which I think is most valuable, and makes the rumours swirling around the likes of Steve Matai all the more worrying. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
It was a good year for choking. The greatest choker of them all, Greg Norman even sealed the year by upping his record for turning 54 hole leads in the majors to 72 hole losses to six. Because he’s 53 we can’t give him the trophy*, and it was pretty amazing that he even got into position, but to close out with a 77 on the final day of the British Open shows that Norman can still choke with the best of them.
Anther great choke came from the Melbourne Storm, who won the NRL’s minor premiership then shambled through the playoffs, losing to an inspired Warriors side and then getting pantsed 40-0 by Manly in the final. In the US, it was hard to go past the Patriots passing up a chance at joining the ’72 Dolphins in the history books as they parlayed an 18-0 season into a Superbowl loss against wild cards the Giants. The only thing that saved them was the manner of their defeat, beaten by a moment of genius.
But for New Zealand sports fans there was only one truly great choke this year, and the title couldn’t have gone to a nicer team… Continue reading