It’s only in the minutes after the final whistle blows, when you lean back from the edge of your seat, mute the TV and take a deep breath, that you realise how fast your heart is beating. Very briefly you consider whether this kind of carry-on is doing any long term damage to your health.
As you wait for the after-match interviews — your reward of sorts, a few moments both to bask in the glory and suck in the big ones — the rhythm slows, although it will be some time before your heart gets back to its normal resting speed.
The two points are in the bank, the camera focuses in on Monty Betham’s shiny head and you soak in the highlights. Rewind. Play. Pause. How did he do that? Play. You beauty! Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play.
It feels like everyone has played well but at first your focus is on the lesser lights: Sam Lisone charging at the defensive line, giving up his body for the cause. David Fusitu’a was excellent — can he keep his spot when Manu returns?
Then there’s the stars, how did they go? Issac Luke did Issac Luke things, engaging the markers and creating that extra bit of space on the outside for whoever he gave the ball to. Shaun Johnson had a hand in everything, controlled the game beautifully with his boot. And then there’s Tui Lolohea — is it possible to give him enough praise for what he’s done lately? Perhaps it’s enough to say that he’s earned a spot in this star category conversation, that he’s rapidly becoming someone who’s worth the price of admission alone.
Winning a tight game is such a euphoric feeling that it doesn’t seem important to consider the fact that the Bulldogs had a five-day turnaround, that the Warriors still made some terrible decisions on defence and too many unforced errors in the last 15 minutes. Instead you focus on the quality of the spectacle, the speed of the game, the brilliant tries from both teams and what a confidence boost it will be for the men from Mt Smart that they held on and secured a win against a Top 8 side. Oh, and then you remember that this happened:
And you laugh out loud and rewind until you find it, press play and watch it again.
And a couple more times, cheering loudly from your living room.
But then it hits you, right in the middle of a ‘Woohoo’, like a punch in the stomach.
What about Roger?
You remember the grimace on his face, that it was a knee — knees are never good. What about the crutches? Oh yeah, the crutches. And then he hobbled off camera. That means he doesn’t want people to know how bad it is, that someone told him it’s better that he stay out of sight, so as not to alarm the fans but more importantly not to take the focus away from his teammates’ job at hand. Get the points lads, worry about me later. But he got up, tried to play on, walked off under his own steam. That has to be good, right? Maybe just a stinger. Maybe just a few weeks. And because you’ve just had a win, because Josh Reynolds did this:
You convince yourself that everything will be okay, that we’re back in business and that tonight was the start of the traditional mid-season charge.
But on Sunday the first thing you do is type ‘Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’ into Google and see what comes up. Then again a few hours later, and again and again until it becomes automatic. Every hour, on the hour, across Sunday and into Monday, you search for updates. No news is good news? Hey, this article thinks it might not be too bad. And then it happens: You’ve got mail. ‘Cruel injury blow for Tuivasa-Sheck’ and your stomach hits the floor. All the air leaves your body and you have to remind yourself to breathe. We all know that injuries are the cost of doing business in the NRL, but it seems like too big of a price to pay. Poor Roger. Poor Warrior Nation.
SET OF SIX
1) Would you give back those two points to have a fit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck? Saturday night’s victory was such an important one. Two wins and five losses and it might have felt like the season was almost already gone. The knives for McFadden would have been even sharper, the critics for Shaun Johnson even louder. But, with a win, the men from Mt Smart now sit just outside the 8, with a favourable draw over the next two months and a great opportunity to make a run. But can this team compete for a title without Roger?
2) Are the Warriors actually well-equipped to deal with the loss of RTS? Tui Lolohea looked fabulous at fullback, and the switch means he might have the ball in his hands even more than if he was in the halves. Thomas Leuluai has slotted almost seamlessly back into the side and in Manu Vatuvei, who is scheduled to return this week, there’s no better substitute for Tuivasa-Sheck’s carries out of the danger zone. Don’t get me wrong, Roger is a huge loss, absolutely enormous, but should it completely derail the season? Let’s hope not.
3) Favourable draw. The Warriors head to Melbourne on Anzac Day, then enjoy more than a month in New Zealand against the Dragons, Panthers, Raiders and a Brisbane side backing up from Origin, before they travel to Newcastle in Round 14. There are no easy games in the NRL, but each of those fixtures in isolation looks winnable. It’s time to get a roll on.
4) Shaun Johnson’s kicking game was superb. As the face of the franchise, Johnson cops more flak than any other player at the club when things don’t go his way. On the flipside, people lose their mind whenever his fancy footwork changes a game. On Saturday night his touches were more subtle, but just as influential. His boot pinned the Bulldogs in the corners, finding turf at almost every attempt. Throw in the excellent vision he showed with the cut out ball to send David Fusitu’a over in the corner and the pinpoint kick which led to Jonathan Wright’s try and you realise it really was a top-class performance from the Warriors’ halfback.
5) Players in motion. After the Melbourne game, I bemoaned the lack of movement on offence compared with the Storm. Saturday night was a much different story, with the backline really starting to click into gear. The Warriors found space on the outside with ease, had different players joining the attacking line, and were particularly dangerous when passes went from standoff to halfback to fullback with Ryan Hoffman and Bodene Thompson running excellent lines on the edges. With so many players in motion, the men from Mt Smart threatened the line almost every time they entered the Bulldogs’ half.
6) Andrew Webster’s half-time confidence. After conceding a long-range try in the dying minutes of the first half, which extended the Bulldogs’ lead to 14–8, the Warriors could have easily gone into the sheds with their tails between their legs. But, if assistant coach Andrew Webster’s half-time interview was anything to go by, that was far from the truth. After reiterating that they needed to hold onto the ball and not panic on defence, he said ‘If we do that, they can’t go with us, particularly at the back end of sets.’ It’s the most confident I’ve ever seen anyone in Warriors’ management on game day and was a great sign that there’s plenty of belief from within this squad.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS