Sometimes 80 minutes is gone before you know it. You sit down, hear a whistle blow, jump off your seat a few times and suddenly you’re back in your car. On the drive home you try to take it all in, to work out what’s happened and what it all means. There’s adrenalin coursing through your veins, and your heart still beats faster than normal as you twist your car keys out of the ignition — it will be some time before it slows. The creak of the automatic garage door signals the end of the day’s journey, of your adventure, but your night is far from over — there’s too many thoughts swirling to contemplate sleep.
At other times, 80 minutes can last a lifetime. The opposition seems to have the ball forever and you can’t remember the last time you smiled. Almost instantly you know that something isn’t right, that it’s going to be one of those days, and you want the pain to stop even before it arrives. Hope hangs on longer than you think it might, but that only serves to prolong the agony, to extend the suffering.
The bye couldn’t have come at a better time. Forget about the players, it was the fans that needed the break the most. When you love something, you become vulnerable, you give a part of yourself away. You expose yourself to the extreme emotions that exist outside of the everyday experience, and while that can propel you to great heights, it can also take its toll. Following that Raiders game, I was mentally exhausted, wondering how I’d ever make it to the end of Round 26. I hadn’t set foot on the field, but I felt battered and bruised.
But this past two weeks has been a blessing. An opportunity to take a deep breath, to hit the reset button and convince myself that there are better days ahead. They say that change is as good as a holiday, and they might be right. Taking a break from the daily grind of swirling rumours, conspiracy theories, knock-ons, missed tackles and general negativity has me feeling like a new man. I know we’re almost halfway through the season, but it’s as if the year is starting afresh.
Like most of us on New Year’s Day, Warrior Nation is nursing a hangover, a fairly severe one at that. We’ve had a season’s worth of headaches already, but the next 14 weeks provide an opportunity for resolutions, for a new way of living. We’ve all had enough of worrying about what happens off the field, so let’s bring the focus back to the most important 80 minutes of each week. More importantly, let’s bring the fun back to those 80 minutes.
For the first week of 2016 take 2, Brisbane comes to town hard on the heels of Origin. Oates and Gillett haven’t travelled, and it remains to be seen whether Thaiday, Boyd, Parker and McGuire all suit up on Saturday evening. In spite of that, the Broncos are far from easy-beats — their halves pairing alone is enough to terrify even the best defensive sides. Perhaps the worst thing that happened to the Warriors this past week was the Tigers beating the Broncos — there’s no chance now that Clint Eastwood and his men will be taking this game lightly.
For the Warriors, Solomone Kata and Manu Vatuvei headline a raft of changes, but despite wielding the axe, Andrew McFadden has spared the big names. Jazz Tevaga seems unlucky to miss out, but watch for the bench to make a significant impact for this Warriors side, with high-energy forwards Vete, Lisone and Gubb all likely to provide a spark.
If the men from Mt Smart are going to get their season back on track — at this point it is worth mentioning even after the disastrous start to the year they still sit only one win outside the Top 8 — you get the impression they’ll need to score some points. Coach Cappy has highlighted the need to bring some fun back to the group, and ‘fun’ strikes me as the key focus for the rest of 2016. This Warriors outfit needs to put the past behind them, play with some confidence and back themselves to bust through the defensive line at every opportunity. Be brave and anything’s possible, but if the attack remains predictable and structured, we’re in for a long 14 weeks.
New Zealand Warriors v Brisbane Broncos, 5pm (NZ time), Saturday 4 June, Mount Smart Stadium
Gates Open: 12:30pm
NYC Kick-off: 12:40pm
NSW Cup Kick-off: 2:40pm
NRL Kick-off: 5pm
Any chance we’ll see history repeat?
1 Tuimoala Lolohea, 2 David Fusitu’a, 3 Blake Ayshford, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Manu Vatuvei 6 Thomas Leuluai 7 Shaun Johnson 8 Jacob Lillyman, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Ben Matulino, 11 Bodene Thompson 12 Ryan Hoffman (c), 13 Simon Mannering. Interchange: 14 Nathaniel Roache, 15 Sam Lisone, 16 Albert Vete, 17 Charlie Gubb 18 Ligi Sao
1 Darius Boyd, 2 Lachlan Maranta, 3 Jack Reed, 4 James Roberts, 5 Jordan Kahu, 6 Anthony Milford, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 Josh McGuire, 9 Travis Waddell, 10 Adam Blair, 11 Alex Glenn, 12 Sam Thaiday, 13 Corey Parker. Interchange: 14 Jarrod Wallace, 15 Tevita Pangai, 16 Joseph Ofahengaue, 17 Kodi Nikorima, 18 Herman Ese’ese, 19 Jai Arrow