Drinking the Kool-Aid

Part of me feels like I should be more annoyed. Furious even. Saturday evening’s loss to Penrith leaves the Warriors with only four wins from the first ten games, in a year when we were supposed to be challenging for the title. Instead, with almost half the season in the rear-view mirror, we sit 13th on the ladder, the off-field drama won’t go away and the pressure on both the coaching staff and the playing group gets more intense by the week. One star recruit is injured and done for the season, the other lost his Kiwis jumper and had his starting spot taken by a 20-year-old debutant.

We can all agree that the situation is less than ideal.

But for some reason, I feel strangely optimistic. Have I become too accustomed to losing? Am I protecting myself, subconsciously withdrawing from the situation because I’ve seen it all before and can’t withstand another year of pain? Or was Saturday’s game the straw that broke the camel’s back, one that sent me tumbling from the realm of reason into a crazy, confusing world where the sun always shines, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose and every sentence finishes with a happy-face emoji and LOL?

By both the eye test and the stats sheet, the Warriors and the Panthers were two evenly matched sides. It wasn’t the greatest game of football you could ever hope to see, but it was a hard-fought, competitive game where the winner wasn’t known until the 76th minute. A few key moments, a few key mistakes, proved the difference. The Warriors made nine errors to the Panthers’ seven, and perhaps that alone was enough to swing things in Penrith’s favour. Individual errors, the wrong option at the wrong time, call it what you will, but the Warriors weren’t that far away.

I get that this isn’t exactly a new thing, that this isn’t the first time unforced errors and poor discipline have cost the Warriors the two points, but would we all be so downhearted if Tui Lolohea had sliced past Isaah Yeo to touch down in the 67th minute? The fact of the matter is: Penrith are a decent side who executed better than the men from Mt Smart when it mattered and therefore won the game. That’s not to say the Warriors didn’t let a winnable game slip through their grasp and that it isn’t frustrating, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

I saw a team on Saturday evening that is trying to work it out, trying to improve and who showed signs that if they were ever able to put 80 minutes together, they could make a real surge up the NRL ladder. Maybe I’m drinking too much of the Jim Doyle/Andrew McFadden Kool-Aid, but I feel like that’s the most important thing I want from any team I give my support to: I want to see that effort, tackle after tackle, hit-up after hit-up. Give me that and I can live with a dropped ball every now and again. Give me that and I can be okay with a loss. Not happy with a loss — let’s be clear about that — still the curling-up-in-the-fetal-position-and-muting-the-TV-for-a-few-minutes-to-calm-down-and-soothe-my-broken-heart-type of okay, but okay enough to eventually bring your head back out from underneath your jersey, put on a brave face and accept that sometimes the other team is better than you are.

The Melbourne loss was a dark day. The week that followed was just as bad. A low point in a history that has featured far too many. But there’s change brewing at Mt Smart. I can feel it. I witnessed it against St George — the spirit is in there somewhere. They’re not there yet, but there is hope. Whether the change can last, whether it can become the norm, whether it leads us to glory or right back to where we started from or worse, I can’t be sure. But, for now, I’m prepared to give it time, to sip slowly on the Kool-Aid and drink in the mantra.

Be a true Warrior. Be a true Warrior.

I know there’s a chance I might end up face down on the floor gasping for air, but maybe, just maybe, that Kool-Aid keeps getting tastier and tastier, and one day we’ll raise our glasses to toast a Premiership title won by a brotherhood of true Warriors.

SET OF SIX

1) Let’s reunite Shaun Johnson and Tui Lolohea in the halves. I’ve got a lot of time for Thomas Leuluai but, the more I think about it, the more I think the Warriors would be better served to get Lolohea more involved. David Fusitu’a was great at fullback, and Leuluai would still have value coming off the bench. It might be tough on someone like Jazz Tevaga if they had to miss out but, to me, the positives outweigh the negatives by a long way.

2) The Warriors are still not getting full value from their bench. Why do we persist with an outside back on the interchange? The men from Mt Smart have had their fair share of bad injury luck this season, but injuries are unpredictable, so why plan for them? With so many interchangeable parts across the backline anyway — Fusitu’a can cover wing, fullback, centre; Lolohea can play anywhere; Wright and Allwood cover wing and centre; Leuluai has experience at half, hooker or lock — there’s simply no need to have anyone on the bench who isn’t an impact player.

3) Congrats Christchurch. Regrettably I was watching the game from home instead of from the stands, but the force of the crowd came through the TV loud and clear. With the Panthers set to return for four years, let’s hope this fixture continues to generate the same excitement from season to season.

4) But maybe save the wind for another day next time? The wind played havoc with the Warriors’ kicking game, but the players shouldn’t use that as an excuse. I say this without having witnessed the warm-ups, but I wonder how many kicks the Warriors attempted pre-game. It’s a minor gripe, and difficult to know whether it would have made any difference, but it is noticeable when the best teams visit Mt Smart — the Melbournes and North Queenslands of this world — that the likes of Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and Jonathan Thurston spend a good five to ten minutes kicking the ball from around the halfway line and getting it to stop at the exact right depth. It’s just a small thing, but those little one-percenters can make all the difference in a competition as tight as the NRL.

5) Jono Wright does his best Manu Vatuvei impression. Wright cops a lot of criticism from the fans and the media, but the way he bumped off Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and crashed over the line was Manu-esque.

6) Can the Warriors still make the playoffs? For all the negatives of the season so far, the men from Mt Smart are only two points outside the Top 8. If 28 competition points is the magic number, by my count they’d need 8 wins from the remaining 14 rounds. Certainly possible — can I interest you in some Kool-Aid?

FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

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