Twenty-five years ago, the New Zealand cricket team began a World Cup campaign that would go on to capture the imagination of the entire country, forever associating the phrase ‘Young Guns’ with positive memories among Kiwi sports fans. As it turns out, the so-called ‘Young Guns’ weren’t actually that young at all, but that’s beside the point. What we must learn from their march towards the semi-finals is that it was a collection of young and previously unheralded players who tipped the balance from good to great.
There’s no doubting that the star of that tournament was the late, great Martin Crowe, who at that time was already regarded as one of the finest batsmen New Zealand had ever produced. We may also think of Dipak Patel, the 33-year-old off-spinner who unexpectedly opened the bowling. Or 28-year-old Mark Greatbatch, whose swashbuckling style at the top of the order revolutionised the One-Day game. But very rarely can a team achieve great things for an extended period of time on the back of few. Great teams are characterised by contributions from the many. For that New Zealand team in 1992, it was the likes of Chris Harris and Willie Watson who stepped up on the biggest stage of all, who became vital cogs in the Young Gun machine.
When you lay in bed at night and imagine the Warriors marching towards a grand final, I expect you picture a sprinkling of Shaun Johnson magic.
A sidestep or two from Captain Roger.
Or Issac Luke orchestrating things from dummy half.
In 2017, the men from Mt Smart are more star-studded than they’ve ever been, but I firmly believe it will be the young guns who’ll determine where this story will end. For this season to be a success, it’s the Albert Vetes and Iulio ‘Bunty’ Afoas of this world who’ll need to take that next step from ‘potential’ to ‘consistent performer’, from ‘talented rookie’ to ‘never-let-you-down pro’ for a Warriors forward pack that looks light on both power and penetration. It’s the Sam Lisones, Charlie Gubbs and Isaiah Papali’is who’ll need to put their names up in the bright lights, in the X-factor conversations and, most importantly, in permanent marker on Stephen Kearney’s team sheet. With Ben Matulino out indefinitely, it’s these five young men who hold the fate of Warrior Nation in their hands.
On paper, Round 1 against the Knights is the perfect way to ease into the season — a comfortable victory in the Sunday afternoon sunshine — but we all know nothing is guaranteed in the NRL. All eyes will be on Johnson and Tuivasa-Sheck, but make sure you pay close attention to those young guns. It will be them who take this season from good to great, or from average to poor.
The Warriors put 50 on the Knights last year, can they do it again?
Warriors v Knights, Round 1, Mt Smart Stadium, Sunday 5 March
NYC kick off: 11:45 (NZ time)
ISP kick off: 1:45pm
NRL kick off: 4:00pm
NRL TEAM LISTS
Warriors: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c) 2 Tuimoala Lolohea 3 David Fusitua 4 Solomone Kata 5 Ken Maumalo 6 Mafoa’aeata Hingano 7 Shaun Johnson 8 Albert Vete 9 Issac Luke 10 Charlie Gubb 11 Bunty Afoa 12 Ryan Hoffman 13 Simon Mannering
Interchange: 14 Erin Clark 15 Jacob Lillyman 16 Samuel Lisone 17 Isaiah Papali’i
Reserves: 18 Bodene Thompson 20 Mason Lino 21 James Gavet 22 Blake Ayshford
Knights: 1 Dylan Phythian 2. Ken Sio 3. Dane Gagai 4. Peter Mata’utia 5. Nathan Ross 6. Brock Lamb 7. Trent Hodkinson 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Danny Levi 10. Josh Starling 11. Sione Mata’utia 12. Jamie Buhrer 13. Mitchell Barnett
Interchange: 14. Luke Yates 15. Jack Stockwell 16. Sam Stone 17. Jacob Saifiti
Reserves: 18. Brendan Elliott 19. Tyler Randell 20. Josh King 21. Anthony Tupou
Bodene Thompson is expected to take Erin Clark’s spot on the interchange bench. Knights expected to line up 1-17.