One team scored 50 last week. The other scored 0.
The Warriors are finally starting to look like the attacking force we all thought they could be, whereas the Roosters, last year’s Minor Premiers, find themselves in unfamiliar territory, languishing near the bottom of the ladder. They’ve had injuries to key players, unwanted canine-related incidents and now this week head to Mt Smart without their Origin representatives.
Done deal, right? Warriors bank the two points and move on.
On paper it seems that simple, but the big question remains: Can we fully trust this Warriors team?
The men from Mt Smart did what they had to do last week against an awful Knights side, but at times it felt like fools gold. As much as the offence is coming together and, in turn, positively impacting the effort at the defensive end, I’m not yet fully sold. The key factor in these past two wins has been the fact that the Warriors streaked ahead early. They burst out of the gate, maintained a safe distance and the games were all but decided with 20 minutes to go.
But what happens when it’s still close with the clock winding down? What happens if they fall behind? What happens when the ball starts bouncing the other way? Do they have the toughness to stay in the fight, to get going when the going gets tough? Can they win a game without scoring at least 24–30 points?
These are questions I hope we won’t find the answers to for a good few weeks yet — it’s much easier on the nerves to win by 20+ each week — but they are questions that need to be answered before we get too excited about this recent run of form.
The Roosters may be struggling, and they were absolutely awful against Melbourne, but there’s no doubting they have the players capable of winning this game. Let’s not forget last year, when the Roosters moseyed across to Mt Smart without their Origin stars and broke our hearts. Former Warriors Sio Siua Taukeiaho was tremendous in that game and, once again, it is the Roosters forward pack, primarily Taukeiaho, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Dylan Napa, who present the biggest threat to the men from Mt Smart. The more dominance the Chooks can establish in the middle of the park, the harder it will be for Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson and Tui Lolohea to exert any influence on the game.
It’s certainly an encouraging sign for Warrior Nation to see the coaching staff stick with the aggressive, attacking make-up of the side that has been so effective over the past two weeks. The selection of Ken Maumalo, in particular, reflects a significant change in attitude from just one month ago — an acknowledgement that it is imperative this Warriors outfit tries to win games rather than not lose them. In Maumalo, we get a like-for-like replacement for Manu Vatuvei, someone with an impressive running game who can have a huge impact on the game with ball in hand, but who also has a mistake or two in their arsenal, as opposed to the supposed safety of a Jonathan Wright. It’s a sign that the club is embracing a risk and reward style that has vaulted them back into the playoff conversation.
Continuing the attacking theme, the Warriors must be licking their lips at the opportunity to target the defensive combination (or lack thereof) of Dale Copley and Ryan Matterson. The two young Roosters looked absolutely lost against the Storm, and if Shaun Johnson and the rest of the Warriors don’t steer plenty of traffic in that direction on Sunday, I’ll be absolutely stunned.
Copley and Matterson will likely improve, and the Roosters as a whole will not play as bad this week as they did against Melbourne — of that I am sure. They may have lost Aidan Guerra and Blake Ferguson, but welcome back Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Dylan Napa and Isaac Liu. You could make a case that their team list is actually stronger this week, even without the Origin reps. That being said, they’re still a side that the Warriors, at home, should take care of, but one that presents as a real banana skin that the men from Mt Smart can’t afford to slip on. Win this week and the Warriors continue their march towards finals football. But a loss here, followed by a tough road trip to Cronulla, and all this positive momentum could quickly become a distant memory.
New Zealand Warriors v Sydney Roosters, Mt Smart Stadium, Sunday June 19, 2016
Gates Open: 3:30pm
NYC Kick-off: 3:45pm
NRL Kick-off: 6pm
1 Tuimoala Lolohea 2 David Fusitua 3 Blake Ayshford 4 Solomone Kata 5 Ken Maumalo 6 Thomas Leuluai 7 Shaun Johnson 8 Albert Vete 9 Issac Luke 10 Ben Matulino 11 Bodene Thompson 12 Ryan Hoffman 13 Simon Mannering. Interchange: 14 Nathaniel Roache 15 Sam Lisone 16 Toafofoa 17 Charlie Gubb
1 Latrell Mitchell 2 Daniel Tupou 3 Shaun Kenny-Dowall 4 Dale Copley 5 Joseph Manu 6 Ryan Matterson 7 Jackson Hastings 8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9 Jake Friend (c) 10 Sam Moa 11 Sio Siua Taukeiaho 12 Mitchell Aubusson 13 Dylan Napa. Interchange: 14 Isaac Liu 15 Kane Evans 16 Connor Watson 17 Chris Smith 18 Mitchell Frei