Walk in the Park

Cambridge Dictionaries Online describes ‘A walk in the park’ as: ‘something that is very easy to do, and usually pleasant’. I’m not sure I can describe the Warriors’ win over Newcastle any better than that.

With all the drama that has gone on this year and the tight games we have come to expect in the NRL, Saturday evening was almost anti-climactic, although you won’t hear any complaining from me if the men from Mt Smart make it look that easy every week. At times it felt like they never got out of second gear, but they do deserve credit for being ruthless when they needed to be and for coming away not only with the win but with 50 points next to their name — a nice (and much-needed) boost to the for and against column. Wasn’t it good to feel, as soon as the game got into its rhythm, that the Warriors were almost certainly going to win? And then to feel like the points were definitely safe with 30 minutes still on the clock? To lean back in your chair and enjoy the show with your heart beating at the same pace as a regular person for a change?

Who knows how much we can take from this performance, given the opposition — it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Knights are really battling right now. Injuries and a general lack of top-quality first-grade-level players has left an inexperienced squad to deal with the mental toll of losing week after week. It can’t be easy, and it’s getting difficult to see how this Newcastle side can pick up even one more win in 2016. Nonetheless, for the most part, the men from Mt Smart made for pleasant viewing, especially in the second half where they outscored the Knights 28–0. The Warriors ran for 700 more metres (1888 to 1170), made 13 linebreaks to Newcastle’s 1, scored 9 tries and racked up a half century as the Knights missed a whopping 48 tackles. David Fusitu’a outscored the Knights on his own.

But regardless of the opposition, that’s two in a row now for the men from Mt Smart — Warrior Nation has grown while other sides begin to fall from the treetops like the autumn leaves. The gentle rustling of the Top 8 is audible, it may very well be just around the corner. So breathe in the fresh air that comes from success, soak up the rays while the sun shines bright. Tougher challenges lie ahead, but that bandwagon is rolling — hop on before it’s too late.

All aboard!

SET OF SIX

1) Don’t underestimate the loss of Manu Vatuvei. The major negative to come from Saturday’s game was the hamstring injury to The Beast. Signs point to him missing at least one game, but hopefully it won’t be more. Big Manu has his detractors, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the Warriors are a significantly better team when he’s on the field.

2) As well as the Warriors played in the second half, things might have been interesting had Daniel Saifiti been able to catch. With eight points separating the two sides, the first points after halftime were always going to go a long way to deciding the direction of the fixture. Had Saifiti hung on, the Warriors’ lead would have been just 2 points, and you never know what a few nerves and a home crowd can do. Instead, the men from Mt Smart went down the other end, David Fusitu’a touched down in the corner and it was basically the end of the contest.

3) Despite only conceding 14 points on Saturday and 18 the previous week against the Broncos, the Warriors still feel like a side that could easily leak a lot of points, and in a hurry. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been plenty to like about the defensive effort over the past two weeks, but there’s still plenty of work to do at that end if they plan on playing finals footy.

4) It may have meant very little come the final whistle, but was the Warriors’ first try another strange decision from the bunker or am I missing something? From where I was sitting, Jacob Lillyman clearly caught the ball on the inside of Simon Mannering, which, a few rounds ago, would have made it no try. Having been ruled ‘No try’ on the field, at best I’d argue the evidence wasn’t sufficiently conclusive to overturn the on-field ruling. I’ve got no problem with that type of incident being ruled as play-on, but when both players and fans can’t predict how the obstruction rule will be policed from game to game, it’s a real worry. Great offload from Lillyman, though!

5) Matt Russell was on fire during the commentary on Fox Sports. I’m a sucker for a well-timed joke, and my personal highlights were when Russell compared Jake Mamo’s haircut to that which you’d find on ‘a six-year-old girl at the shopping mall’, and when he encouraged everyone to Google ‘Pig and Kangaroo + Darwin’. Slow news day at the NT Times?

6) Back-to-back wins — is it safe to start getting excited? After a bit of ambitious NRL.com ladder predictor action this evening, my calculated picks/wishful thinking/pure guesses have the men from Mt Smart finishing fifth on the table at the end of the regular season, with a home game against the Penrith Panthers in week one of the finals. Maybe that’s getting a little carried away after wins against an Origin-weary Broncos side and the certain wooden spooners, but take a look at the Warriors’ remaining fixtures — other than the Cowboys and the Sharks, are there any teams on that list that you fear?

  • Roosters (H)
  • Sharks (Away *Origin players may or may not back up)
  • Titans (H)
  • Manly (Away *Perth)
  • Raiders (Away)
  • Panthers (H)
  • Titans (Away)
  • Souths (H)
  • Cowboys (Away)
  • Wests (H)
  • Parramatta (H)

If 28 points is the magic number, 6 wins from those 11 games will get the Warriors in the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Seven wins and a playoff fixture at Mt Smart isn’t out of the question. Dream big, Warrior Nation.

FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

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