Cool Runnings

Who saw that coming?

Honestly? C’mon now, tell the truth.

Yes, I hear you, it’s Origin time. The Broncos were understrength, tired. The Warriors always make a run at this time every year. I know, I know, these are all valid points.

But seriously, after all that has happened in the past month, did you really see the men from Mt Smart putting on a show like that? It wasn’t just scraping out a win against a lacklustre Brisbane side — that was a performance to be proud of, one that got us excited, which had us out of our seats for almost longer than we were in them. It was the kind of performance that makes you forget all the dark times, all the negativity — unbridled joy, and pure love, were the only emotions needed on Saturday night. I even shared one of those special moments when you look at the person a few seats down from you and your eyes meet for just a little too long to call it a passing glance, but it’s not awkward, anything but, so you hold the gaze for a few seconds longer than you might in another social situation, because you’re both smiling, both grinning actually, and part of you wants to hug each other but you’re a little too far away so instead you just look even longer, because the moment warrants that human connection, a shared ecstasy, and you complete your perfect conversation where no words are necessary but everything is understood.

For the first time in 2016, we saw what we all hoped this Warriors team could be, what so many people expected them to be. We saw a team so damaging on attack that they could score from anywhere, a team built to entertain, a team capable of footing it with the best in the business.

What a huge change it was from the past 11 games, where we’d seen a side not knowing who they were, a team trying to be something they are not — a structured, defensively orientated ball club that builds pressure, waits for the opposition to make mistakes and grinds them into the dust. While the first half of the season was evidence that the men from Mt Smart are not the Melbourne Storm, Saturday was proof that they shouldn’t try to be. They’ve got their own style, Warrior style, and the best thing they can do is to embrace that. If they sidestep like the Warriors, leak points like the Warriors and take us on that rollercoaster ride like the Warriors, then they sure as hell better play footy like the Warriors.

Do that, and the results will take care of themselves. There’ll still be ups and downs, zigs and zags — that’s who we are — but, at the end of the day, the Warriors won’t win the NRL playing like Melbourne, so why bother? Warrior-ball gives the fans something to cheer about, gives us a team we can proudly call our own. String another couple of performances like that together and, who knows, this season might not be dead yet after all . . .

SET OF SIX

1) It took them a few sets to get going, but once they scored their first try, the Warriors looked threatening almost every time they touched the ball. Andrew McFadden made a point in the lead up to emphasise the need to bring the fun back to Mount Smart, and on Saturday night his team did exactly that. After a scrappy first six minutes, the Warriors jinked and jived their way to an 18–0 lead with only 23 minutes gone. Brisbane caused a few scares late in the first half, but another Warriors surge to start the second stanza quickly crushed any chance of a Broncos comeback. Yes Brisbane were well below par, but the Warriors never let them into the match (64% possession at the half), and for that they deserve plenty of credit.

2) You make your own luck. Sometimes when you’re losing and you’re caught in that negative spiral, it can seem like every 50–50 decision goes against you and every bounce of the ball goes the wrong way. But when you play with energy and enthusiasm, it’s amazing how that all seems to change. Shaun Johnson gets the ball to sit up perfectly for the Bodene Thompson try, Issac Luke bounces one off the post for Jacob Lillyman to score, and arguably the biggest decisions of the night — the two forward passes called against Brisbane in the 38th and 40th minutes — also (correctly) went in the Warriors favour when, on another night, they may have been allowed to stand. Thanks Henry — we’re even now.

3) The Bodene Thompson try (see highlights below) was a demonstration of everything that can be so good about this Warriors team. A strong carry from Manu Vatuvei gets the ball out of the danger zone. Issac Luke pounces on a quick play-the-ball to burst out of dummy half. Great support play from Solomone Kata turns a half break into a try-scoring opportunity, and then Shaun Johnson jumps into first receiver to take advantage of front foot ball. Throw in a bit of luck and the crowd are on their feet. When the powerful ball-runners get some momentum, Issac Luke injects himself into the game and Shaun Johnson runs at a back-pedalling defensive line, good things happen.

4) What a finisher David Fusitu’a is. We were treated to some superb tries on Saturday night (Jordan Kahu deserves a special mention too), great breaks — if only Tui Lolohea could have finished off his superb run with a try — and end-to-end footy, but how David Fusitu’a managed to stay in the field of play and then find a way to get the ball down (see highlights below) was absolutely incredible. Fusitu’a is building up quite the resume of spectacular finishes and is quickly becoming an integral member of this Warriors backline.

5) Albert Vete, setting the tone. Vete may have only played 29 minutes, but the energy with which he started the game was outstanding. The competition for places between Vete, Sam Lisone, Charlie Gubb and even James Gavet seems to be very positive, with all four young players looking desperate to impress every time they step on the field. Vete’s lead may have also inspired Ben Matulino, who produced one of his best performances of the season.

6) Now what? There hasn’t been much to crow about this season, but Saturday night was a performance to be celebrated. The Warriors started the game with more desire, took control and then buried the game straight after halftime. They actually looked like a good team! But what does that mean? Is it a sign of things to come, or false hope? There’s been so much inconsistency already this year, that it makes it near on impossible to predict what might happen next. Whatever you believe, there’s no denying that the men from Mt Smart remain only one win outside the Top 8, with their next two games against sides sitting last and second-to-last on the ladder — this season just got a whole lot more interesting.

FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

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