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