The Anzac round is one filled with remembrance. It’s a time to reflect on the lives of those who have come and gone before us, a time to honour the sacrifices they made for their country and for everyone who calls it home. It’s a time to consider the impact of not just the Anzac campaign, but of all wars, both then and now, and wonder why we can’t all get along. Lastly, it’s an opportunity to showcase the honour in battle, in fighting the good fight, no matter whether you win or lose.
And while Tuesday night did not end in celebration for those of us who reside in Warrior Nation, there was much to be proud of. In perhaps their most committed performance of the season, the men from Mt Smart travelled to enemy territory and found themselves leading the table-topping Storm at the 65-minute mark. The Warriors weren’t flashy — instead their performance felt rather Melbourne-like — but they were dedicated, and when they had opportunities to score, for the most part they took them.
The tables turned at the back end of the game, and the Storm did what they do best — stuck their noses in front and then used all their experience and precision to close out a win. Rather than criticise the Warriors for not producing a match-winning moment in the final stages, I think it’s more valuable to acknowledge that those 15 minutes illustrate exactly why Melbourne are one of the best teams in the competition, and why they have been for many years. The men from Mt Smart appear to be making progress, but they’re not there yet.
Despite all the positives, Tuesday night felt like one that got away. There’s no shame in putting in a strong effort against a quality side and coming away second best. But, unfortunately for the Warriors in their current predicament, those are the kinds of games they need to find a way to win. Instead, they now find themselves in 12th spot on the ladder and in serious danger of falling out of Top 8 calculations long before season’s end. If the men from Mt Smart played at that level all season, they’d be worthy of a playoff berth. But time is running out to get the results on the board, edging this week against the Roosters towards must-win territory — which is a worry seeing as it’s only Round 9.
SET OF SIX
1) Much has been written on social media message boards about dodgy refereeing and NRL conspiracy theories, but it’s time to throw that out the window. I like a good vent as much as the next person, but refereeing didn’t cost the Warriors that match. There were certainly a few calls that went against the men from Mt Smart — most noticeably the Ayshford offside decision at the end of the first half, and the no call when Vunivalu flipped Shaun Johnson while he was standing at marker with 60 minutes gone. That last decision in particular could have had a huge impact on the fixture, as the Warriors were two points ahead and would have been starting a set inside Melbourne’s red zone with an opportunity to put the game almost out of reach.
The Addo-Carr try/no try has been talked about ad nauseam, but in my opinion the right decision was made. It was incredibly close, and obviously should have been sent to the bunker, but would have been sent up as a try and there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn it.
And, in the manner of fairness, it’s worth pointing out that the Warriors received their own slice of refereeing luck at the beginning of the second half, when the Storm were penalised for a very dubious lifting tackle on Sam Lisone. The resulting gain in territory led to the slick backline move that finished with a David Fusitua converted try to give the Warriors a 14–8 lead.
2) The Storm gave us a lesson. Stephen Kearney has been talking all year about learning lessons, and I hope he’s sat everyone down in the classroom with pen and paper in hand in the aftermath of Tuesday’s loss. Melbourne do so many little things right, from managing the ruck to kicking their way out of trouble and knowing when to put their foot on the gas. While the Warriors led for most of the match, they never looked to increase the tempo in an effort to put the game beyond doubt. But as soon as the Storm hit the front, they noticeably lifted, and eventually landed the knockout punch when Felise Kaufusi crashed over in the 77th minute.
3) Is the Melbourne style of football the right direction for the men from Mt Smart? This is too big of a question to answer in this brief format, and I’m not sure I’ve formed an opinion yet anyway. But, in the past few seasons, the Warriors have clearly made a concerted effort to cut out the 50–50 plays in favour of structure and discipline, and this year we’re starting to see signs that it might be sinking in. The defence, especially on their own goal line, looks sturdy, and we’ve seen less errors than in recent times. But can we ever out-Melbourne Melbourne? Can this style maximise the talents of this playing group? My hope is that the medium-to-long-term plan is for the free-flowing, off-the-cuff play to return to some degree once the basics have become automatic and ingrained, but will the Warriors be too far from the Top 8 by then?
4) Are the Warriors getting the best out of the interchange bench? Issac Luke not being on the field for the final quarter feels like a mistake. I’m yet to be convinced there’s any value in playing Nathaniel Roache for just 10-15 minutes from the bench at all, but if Luke actually can’t play 80 minutes, then surely he’d be better served having a rest just before and just after halftime? Andrew McFadden took some criticism last season when he gambled for a couple of games without a dummy half on the bench and Issac Luke suffered an injury, but I’m starting to think it’s worth the risk.
And while we’re discussing the bench, Jim Doyle, are you calling Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s agent? His performance was the perfect example of a bench player being impactful rather than a stop-gap while the starting line-up has a breather.
5) Roger Tuivasa-Sheck looks back to his brilliant best. Captain RTS ran for 230 metres on 20 carries, went looking for work and was easily the most threatening Warrior on the night with ball in hand. He’s such an elusive ball-runner, it’s an absolute pleasure to watch him in full flight. The Foran to Johnson to RTS combination is improving by the game, and if David Fusitua’s second try is anything to go by, that Warriors spine has the potential to be almost unstoppable when they get front-foot ball.
6) The Warriors were at their most dangerous when Kieran Foran was at first receiver. The halves went missing a little in the final quarter of the game, but the first 25 minutes of the match was a perfect example of the impact Kieran Foran can have on this Warriors’ side. In that time, Foran had 21 touches of the ball, was directing traffic and, perhaps most importantly, his work-rate allowed Shaun Johnson to operate primarily as an attacking weapon rather than a facilitator. Unfortunately, it seems just a matter of time before Foran’s departure is confirmed, but hopefully his presence in 2017 gives everyone at Warriors’ HQ an idea of what the future should look like around Shaun Johnson.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS