Low Blow

On a night when Joseph Parker became the number one contender for the IBF crown, it was the Canberra Raiders who landed a massive body blow to the Warriors’ finals hopes. As Mt Taranaki watched on, the men from Mt Smart sunk to new lows in what is fast becoming a nightmare season.

There’s been some bad nights, some difficult 80-minutes so far this year, but I think the reason Saturday felt like such a cheap shot is because we were supposed to have hit rock bottom already — why on earth did we have to go back there again?

The 42–0 Anzac Day massacre at the hands of the Melbourne Storm quite rightly drew outrage that shook the club, and the events that followed revealed even deeper problems. But we’d been through that, survived, come out the other side — or so I thought. Tough times make you stronger, more resilient, don’t they? The St George game was the watershed, the moment it all turned around and the upward trajectory began. Against Penrith we learned that we might not be the best team in the competition, but at least from now on we were going to give it everything.

And then it happened again.

Another half-time spray from McFadden, another post-match interview with a dejected Ryan Hoffman. More ‘unacceptables’, ‘softs’ and ‘not good enoughs’ at the press conference.

This club is finding new ways (that look remarkably similar to the old ways) to kick us all in the nuts.

But regardless of the delivery, the outcome is always the same — another Saturday night that ends in a painful, crumpled heap on the floor. This season promised so much, how did things get so bad? How did this happen?

SET OF SIX

1) The problem is the attack. Yes at times the Warriors defence is awful. At other times it is worse than awful, it’s pitiful to the point where you wonder whether they have any pride in their own performance. They seem to leak more soft tries than any other team in the competition and when the opposition gets on a roll, it can feel like it is never going to end. But I swear if the men from Mt Smart looked even moderately threatening on attack, the bulk of these defensive issues would go away. Sure, the effort and commitment still has to be there, but it is a lot easier to make tackles when you are in front on the scoreboard, there’s a lot more to play for when it feels like you can actually win. NEWSFLASH: scoring points gives you confidence. And what does confidence do? It gives you more energy, more belief, both in yourself and in those around you.

2) Which leads me to my next question: Are the Warriors the most predictable attacking side in the competition? Is there any other team in the NRL who runs one-out more times than the men from Mt Smart? Are there any opposition teams who are fooled anymore by the Warriors’ second-man play or the Leuluai/Hoffman and Johnson/Thompson short balls? What happened to ‘Warrior-ball’, to the team who could make something from nothing, who always had problems defending but could beat anyone on their day? Is it time to bring Ali Lauitiiti back to first grade? This is probably my biggest gripe with this current coaching staff — surely with the individual talent on offer at this club we can come up with a few more creative attacking options.

3) Time to go all out. As much as the Jonathan Wrights and Blake Ayshfords of this world are not solely to blame for this current predicament, I’m struggling to find a good reason for the Warriors to trot out so many defensive-minded players in one lineup. At the beginning of the season, a spine of Tuivasa-Sheck, Johnson, Lolohea and Luke was talked about as one of the most dangerous in the competition. That plan never eventuated for a variety of reasons but a quick look through the 17 Warriors who lined up against Canberra and very few names stand out as game-breakers, or even line-breakers. The return of Manu Vatuvei and Solomone Kata will help, but if Konrad Hurrell is gone forever then maybe it is time to give Ken Maumalo another go, to put Tui Lolohea back to the halves with David Fusitu’a or even Henare Wells at fullback. How about a backline of:

Wells

Maumalo

Fusitu’a (or Hurrell if he’s still at the club by the time the bye is over)

Kata

Vatuvei

Lolohea

Johnson

Yes it would potentially be a disaster on defence, but isn’t that what the tackle machines that are Hoffman, Mannering and Thompson are for? And can they really be much worse than what was dished up against the Raiders? At least this way we might put the opposition under some pressure at the other end.

4) Why won’t Shaun Johnson demand the ball in his hands? I’ve said all season that the overly aggressive Johnson criticism strikes me as short-sighted. He’s not playing particularly well, but is anyone? Are the forwards setting a platform for him to attack from? Do Blake Ayshford and Bodene Thompson draw any defenders away from Johnson? Does he ever get quick, front-foot ball? You’d be hard-pressed to answer yes to any of those questions in any game the Warriors have lost this year. The most alarming issue in my eyes is how he can go long stretches of the game, even long periods while the Warriors are attacking the opposition goal line, without touching the ball. Is it his fault? The dummy half? The coaching staff? Most likely it is a combination of all the above, but it doesn’t make any sense. Watch a Cowboys game and look closely at how many times Johnathan Thurston touches the ball. He’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, so to compare Shaun Johnson to Thurston is a touch unfair, but if you want to be the best then you need to learn from the best and the way Thurston gets himself involved not only makes his team better but I’m convinced it helps him play better. By getting the ball in his hands so often, Thurston is able to read the game, to see how the opposition defensive line is operating and strike whenever the opportunity arises. When you touch the ball that often, you don’t need to do something amazing every time you have it.

Thurston doesn’t wait for the ball to come to him, he roams the field to find it, to take charge of it and, in doing so, it puts pressure on the defence as they know they have to be wary whenever he is around. Johnson, on the other hand, too often finds himself with arms raised in exasperation because the ball hasn’t come his way, or is thrown the ball on the 4th or 5th tackle and expected to make something happen. Don’t let the game come to you, go grab it by the scruff of the neck and make it yours. Maybe instead of dropping Johnson, as some media and fans have suggested — seriously would you rather see Jeff Robson, Mason Lino or Ata Hingano at 7 instead of Shaun? — the coaching staff should set him a challenge of touching the ball at least four times in every set of six. Do that, tell Tui Lolohea and the forwards to follow him around the park and then let’s see what happens.

5) The performance was awful, in no way am I suggesting otherwise, but indulge me for a second. I wonder what would have happened had Bodene Thompson handled cleanly in the 19th minute. At that point, the score was just 6–0 to Canberra and all Thompson had to do was pick up the ball with absolutely no one around him and put it down. Instead he somehow dropped it, the Raiders went down the other end, kicked a penalty, then scored a try to make it 14–0 and the rest is history.

6) This was easily the best thing about Saturday night’s game. Imagine if the Warriors had shown this much passion and pride on the field.

FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS LOWLIGHTS

 

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