Every year we ride the Warriors’ rollercoaster and almost expect the ups and downs, so much so that they generally come as no great surprise. But this season the lows have been so low, and compounded by off-field distractions, that they’ve felt a lot more upsetting, a lot more urgent. And then right when we thought it was all over, another season down the toilet, smashed to smithereens and with the shrapnel from the bomb blast looking likely to create more casualties than just Konrad Hurrell, the men from Mt Smart went and produced their best performance of the year and finally looked like the team we all hoped they might be.
Typical. Just typical.
So now we revert back to what must quickly be becoming a dreaded word around Warriors’ HQ: Consistency. Can the men from Mt Smart find it? Can they actually play well two weeks in a row? Three? For the rest of the season?
While the performance against Brisbane might not have been perfect, if the Warriors replicate anything near that standard on Saturday afternoon, it’s fair to expect they’ll have way too many points in them for a Newcastle side that averages more than 35 missed tackles a game and look an absolute certainty for the wooden spoon. On paper it is two points in the bag already, but we’ve all been here before.
Which is exactly why this game feels so important. Not because a loss would mathematically end the Warriors’ chances or anything calculated like that, but because a loss to this Knights team would be such a cruel blow to the already fragile morale of both the players and the fans that it would be too difficult to pick ourselves up of the canvas. We’ve already suffered two knockdowns. One more and the ref stops the fight.
The Warriors can get this season back on track — the Top 8 is within reach — but the only way to make that happen is to keep building on that feel-good factor from the Brisbane win. We just can’t start again . . . again.
From the outside looking in, against the Broncos it felt like the men from Mt Smart had finally realised who they are and how they should take on the rest of this competition. They played with freedom and flair, set a platform with hard running early in their sets and showed a willingness to switch into attack mode whenever the opportunity presented itself. For the most part, at least early on, everything they tried came off. I’m now interested to see what happens when those offloads go to ground, if the errors creep back in. Do they go back into their shell, do they start to feel the pressure? I for one hope that no matter how badly it goes, they trust in the process and play without fear. It’s the only way they’ll achieve anything this season. Feel the rhythm.
On an individual front, look for Manu Vatuvei to get on the scoreboard — he needs to get a move on if he’s going to reach his magic figure of 10 tries this year, but you know he won’t want that streak to end. Jacob Lillyman, too, will be eager to perform. He’s clearly still hurting from his State of Origin omission, and there aren’t many chances left to get that Maroon jersey back. And a shout out to Issac Luke, who’ll run out for his 200th NRL game.
For the Knights, they’ve got players who can hurt the Warriors, but the simple fact remains: The men from Mt Smart will not get a better opportunity this season to bank the two points. They should respect the Novacastrians, but fully expect to come away with a convincing victory. Hey, all you bandwagon fans, it’s time to jump back on the Mt Smart rollercoaster — we’re goin’ up!
New Zealand Warriors v Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium, Newcastle.
Holden Cup: 10:40am (local, 12:40pm NZ)
NSW Cup: 12:40pm (local, 2:40pm NZ)
NRL: 3pm (local, 5pm NZ)
All games on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand.
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
1 Dane Gagai, 2 Cory Denniss, 3 Sione Mata’utia, 4 Nathan Ross (likely to be replaced by Brendan Elliott), 5 Jake Mamo, 6 Jack Cogger, 7 Trent Hodkinson, 8 Sam Mataora, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Daniel Saifiti, 11 Tariq Sims, 12 Pauli Pauli, 13 Jeremy Smith. Interchange: 14 Tyler Randell, 15 Korbin Sims, 16 Jacob Saifiti, 17 Mickey Paea, 19 Joshua King, 20 Lachlan Fitzgibbon