While you read these words, I feel as though it is important for you to know that there is not a single light on as I tap erratically at the keyboard. In fact, there hasn’t been a light on for some time. Some people are afraid of the dark, but in times of sadness I tend to find the absence of light to be calming — a safe place from which courage grows.
It is to the darkness where I have chosen to retreat, to clear the mind and help me process what has gone on previously and what may be yet to come. It is peaceful here in the pitch-black silence, as if the world outside no longer exists, only not quite that extreme. Perhaps it is as if the world outside is on pause, as if I have temporarily left its sphere, and I have been granted the freedom to choose when I wish to begin re-entry.
If you came here looking for answers, I must warn you that you will almost certainly leave disappointed. All I can offer is a glimpse inside a frustrated mind, a peek at what fandom looks like when hope is extinguished. A few questions to ponder as you lament another season that failed to live up to expectations.
Part of me wants to write 568 consecutive swear words, click ‘Post’, shut the laptop lid then throw it against the wall, but the darkness has helped me realise that such behaviour won’t solve anything. It won’t bring me any joy, won’t fill the hollow feeling in my stomach. Won’t result in any more competition points.
Somehow I must come to terms with the fact that the Warriors are done and dusted for 2016, the fact that yet another year will pass by without a playoff appearance. You might think that this should be an easy task, that so many years of conditioning should make things easier, but instead this particular season is even harder to comprehend. For whatever reason, it felt like this time things would be different, and that instead of folding in the key moments these men from Mt Smart would stand tall and make us proud. It is certainly no consolation to hear Tony Archer say the bunker got another decision wrong. That does not help to ease my worried mind.
I must accept that after a rollercoaster of a season, in which the Warriors looked like wooden-spooners one minute and title contenders the next, the men from Mt Smart will eventually finish just outside the Top 8. As I think back to Sunday evening, when I sat slumped over in my seat in a state of shock, I recall overhearing a wise man say he’d never seen a team who fluctuates more within one game from being the best team in the competition to the worst. Perhaps it is fitting that, on the day when the 2016 season effectively came to a close, the Warriors displayed those characteristics better than ever before.
Looking back now, I see that as the year went on the importance of making the Top 8 became about something more than an opportunity to win the competition. Despite all the times when the defence disappeared or the men from Mt Smart seemed allergic to the ball, a playoff berth would have provided a signal that the organisation was finally moving in the right direction, an indication that the on-field performances may one day back up the promises made in front of a microphone or a camera lens. Even just sneaking inside that Top 8 would have provided something concrete to take with us into Mad Monday and beyond. The first step over that hurdle towards a brighter future.
Instead, as the big show begins, we residents of Warrior Nation are forced to assume that all-too-familiar position: standing on the footpath outside the venue, peering in through the gaps in the fence, trying to imagine what it would be like to be there when the crowd roars.
There may well be one week still to go, but darkness has descended early over Mt Smart Stadium and the silence is deafening.
SET OF SIX
Despite the big-name signings and changes to the back-room staff, the Warriors missed the Top 8 yet again. Where do we go from here is the big question, but here’s six more to get things started:
1) Will Andrew McFadden be the coach of the Warriors next season? It was stated earlier in the year that his KPI was making the playoffs, and he’s failed to do so. But the players want him to stay — or at least they’ve given that impression publicly — will that be enough to save him?
2) Should Andrew McFadden be the coach of the Warriors next season? Perhaps this is the more relevant question to debate. The 2016 roster was touted as the club’s best ever. If Coach Cappy wasn’t able to take this side to the Top 8, is there any evidence to suggest he could lead them to a title in the not-so-distant future?
3) But if not McFadden in 2017, then who? Which coaches are available in 2017? And how many of them would be willing to head to Penrose? Can the Warriors afford to go through another coaching change and start again?
4) Is this roster actually as good as it appears on paper? The men from Mt Smart are filled with Test caps and even Origin experience, but still struggled to put together a single 80-minute performance and battled with consistency right throughout the season. Despite a run of impressive wins and tight losses during the Origin period and beyond, the Warriors finished the year the same way they started it, with basic errors and inexplicable drops in intensity costing the team a Top 8 spot that seemed well within reach only a few weeks ago. Have we been blinded by the big names to the real problems within this roster?
5) Is there anyone who has outstayed their welcome? One thing the Warriors did do well this season was introduce a talented crop of youngsters into first grade, but at times it was the more experienced players who were found wanting. Konrad Hurrell was the biggest mid-season casualty, but will anyone else get the boot?
6) Is there anyone out there who can ensure next year is finally the year the Warriors break their playoff drought? Rumours about Kieran Foran continue to circulate, while a number of other players remain off-contract throughout the NRL — who should management make priority number one for 2017?
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