Can you imagine anywhere in the world that could beat sitting on a plastic yellow seat in Penrose on a Sunday afternoon? I haven’t been everywhere, man, but I find it hard to picture such a place. Just the thought of the uncomfortable yellow seat I’ll call my own in 2016 sends a little shiver up the spine, brings a few goosebumps to the arms.
It feels great to be heading home.
Reports suggest there’s a Storm coming, but what’s new? We’ve had a cloud hanging over us here at Warrior Nation since July 2015. The dark patches gathered slowly on the horizon at first, a few narrow losses and an injury or two, but then the drizzle turned into a downpour and it’s been raining cats and dogs ever since.
There were rays of light in the summertime. Clouds cracking and splintering as new signings arrived and current players worked their way towards ‘the best shape of their lives’. But so far this season, the rain is falling just as steadily as ever. A little rust was inevitable. Really, I’m not sure why we expected anything different with all that water damage lingering from last year, corroding the confidence of both players and fans.
But there’s been a few streaks of light, a few glimpses in recent weeks to suggest that the sun might be close by, that it’s possible one day soon we could lean back against that hard plastic and feel the warm glow on our faces, that the weather gods could once again smile on Warrior Nation. They have only been glimpses, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking otherwise, but when it’s been raining for so long, just a brief moment of sunshine can generate so much new life. Just one win could ease so much pressure. One special performance, one magic touch, might be all it takes to stop the rain.
A Storm visit also brings memories of better times, when we arrived at Mt Smart with a sense of wonder, a sense that we might see something magical. It didn’t seem ridiculous that the circus could come to town, that we could witness the greatest piece of gymnastics rugby league anyone has ever seen. Back in July 2015, Mt Smart was a place where anything was possible, where we dared to dream big, where the Warriors winning a game wasn’t just something that happened with our eyes closed.
In team news, Ben Matulino is free to play after contesting his judicial charge, and there’s every chance Blake Ayshford will also line up on Sunday as he’s passed all his concussion testing so far this week. That leaves Manu Vatuvei as the only selection question and, judging from the pain he looked in last week, it seems unlikely we’ll see him out there, opening the door for either Konrad Hurrell or Jonathan Wright to play. To me, there’s no question Hurrell is the better option, especially given the go-forward that Manu generally provides. Hurrell is a like-for-like replacement — another big body to carry the ball out of his own end and to crash over the tryline. Konrad has worked hard, deserves his opportunity and is worth the risk. I’d be willing to bet he’s absolutely fizzing to get a chance to prove himself and he’ll do the jersey proud. Please, Mr McFadden, let him loose.
The Storm have lost Billy Slater, and you’ve got to feel for him. At his age, for his season to be over before it even started, really, must be a crushing blow. Fortunately for Melbourne, Cameron Munster steps into Billy’s shoes and, if last year is anything to go by, is set for another big season. As for the rest of the Melburnians, you know what you get from the Storm — the forwards try to wear you out and the masters, the geniuses, Smith and Cronk, lurk in waiting for that chance to slice you up. Oh, and Craig Bellamy might swear a little.
It’ll be a tough encounter — Melbourne simply doesn’t deal in charity. But, back at home, in front of a big crowd who’ve been starved for recent success, I’m backing the boys to get the job done. It’s the first game I’ve felt confident about all year, and I’m looking forward to something special. Bring it on!
P.S. It’s a triple-header this week, with the NSW Cup side kicking things off at 11:45am. Get down early!
Nathan Friend’s circus act (let’s not mention it was the last match the Warriors won!)
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Otahuhu Leopards)
2 Tuimoala Lolohea (Marist Saints)
3 Blake Ayshford (Paddington Tigers)
4 Solomone Kata (Howick Hornets)
5 Manu Vatuvei (Otara Scorpions)
6 Shaun Johnson (Hibiscus Coast Raiders)
7 Jeff Robson (Leeton Greenies)
8 Jacob Lillyman (Richmond Tigers)
9 Issac Luke (Hawera Hawks)
10 Ben Matulino (Te Aroha Eels)
11 Bodene Thompson (Tauranga City)
12 Ryan Hoffman (c) (Campbelltown)
13 Simon Mannering (Te Aroha Eels)
14 Nathaniel Roache (Mount Albert Lions)
15 Charlie Gubb (University Hunters)
16 James Gavet
17 Albert Vete (Mangere East Hawks)
18 John Palavi (Richmond Rovers)
21 Jonathan Wright (Northern Lake)
23 Konrad Hurrell (Mount Albert Lions)
Coach: Andrew McFadden
1 Cameron Munster (Norths Knights)
2 Young Tonumaipea (Northern Thunder)
3 Will Chambers (Nhulunbuy)
4 Curtis Scott (Bundeena Bushrangers)
5 Marika Koroibete
6 Blake Green (Hills District Bulls)
7 Cooper Cronk (Souths Acacia Ridge)
8 Jesse Bromwich (Manurewa Marlins)
9 Cameron Smith (c) (Logan Brothers)
10 Jordan McLean (Young Cherry Pickers)
11 Kevin Proctor (Tugun Seahawks)
12 Tohu Harris (Tamatea Rugby)
13 Dale Finucane (Bega Roosters)
14 Kenny Bromwich (Manurewa Marlins)
15 Tim Glasby (Norths Kings)
16 Felise Kaufusi (Bundaberg Brothers)
17 Ben Hampton (Mareeba Gladiators)
Coach: Craig Bellamy