What a relief.
This time last week, Warrior Nation was under attack. The noises were deafening, the opposition relentless and the suffering immense. We were weak, vulnerable, and some saw it as a perfect opportunity to come in for the kill.
Then came team-naming Tuesday, and the return of Simon Mannering gave us hope. As a veteran of many battles, and a man with great courage and commitment, he was someone we could believe in, someone who we knew would fight hard to restore honour to the Warrior name. Perhaps even more importantly, we saw a Brisbane squad depleted by Origin and injury. We saw weakness. Our belief grew stronger.
By the time Saturday rolled around, we had many questions. Some flowed out like a raging river, while others went unsaid, better left unspoken. Were these men from Mt Smart the gritty, committed team we saw against the Roosters? Were they the side capable of putting 28 points on the Panthers in a single half? Or were they the fragile squad who conceded over 60 points in their next 120 minutes? We hoped to find the answer, but in truth all we wanted was any answer that would keep Warrior Nation alive in 2017.
Spirits were high when the U20s secured a much-needed first win of the season, and confidence grew again as the ISP squad made it two from two. We stood to applaud as our boys set foot on the battlefield and, on a day when we took time to remember our heritage, to remember where we came from and what led us to this point, we were given a reason to believe once again in our future.
Our forwards marched downfield. Our backs landed the decisive blows. A brief Brisbane counter-attack gave us cause for concern, but once we regained control of our territory, the result was never in doubt.
It was a win against a depleted Brisbane Broncos, but it was a win all the same. The ladder doesn’t evaluate how you won or grade the opposition, it just tallies up your victories and indicates your standing in the NRL world. The two points were well-deserved, and desperately needed.
I’d like to be more excited. A big part of me thinks that I should be. During the 80 minutes of game time, I most certainly was, leaping out of my seat with regularity. But, two days later, I feel more drained than elated. It’s been a difficult few weeks, and I’m glad they’re over. It’s been tough to fight battle after battle, so it’s no surprise that even a victory has taken its toll.
SET OF SIX
1) The Hungry, Hungry Hippos are back. Weren’t Sam Lisone and Albert Vete fantastic!? I’m not sure if word got back to Big Sam that I was a little concerned with his recent performances, but he certainly answered in impressive manner on Saturday night. Lisone and a hungry Albert Vete added energy, enthusiasm and power off the bench — perhaps the Warriors’ biggest areas of weakness over the past few weeks. Get Albert’s new contract typed up quickly, and make sure he signs on the dotted line.
2) Recent wounds are still healing. A 22-point lead used to be cause for celebration, but when James Roberts scored two tries in 10 minutes to cut the margin to 12, a quiet sense of dread crept around Mt Smart. On reflection, this was a game that the Warriors controlled from start to finish, and both Brisbane tries came against the run of play, but when you’ve been burned, it always takes time to regain that trust.
3) Will Manu Vatuvei ever play another game in a Warriors’ jumper? It feels like blasphemy to suggest such a thing and, even as I write these words, I can’t quite believe I’m thinking them. But with Ken Maumalo growing into his role as a powerful ball-runner, and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad taking every opportunity given to him, The Beast’s path back to first grade looks rocky for the first time in years. Throw the eventual return of Solomone Kata into the mix, as well as reports suggesting Manu may look to be released from the final year of his contract, and the picture gets even cloudier. I’m still not yet ready to say goodbye, but I’m starting to prepare myself for a life without The Beast.
4) The Warriors changed the focal point of their attack. While plenty of credit must go to the Warriors’ middle for gaining ascendency, it appeared, on the surface at least, that the men from Mt Smart made a concerted effort to shift the ball early and often. It wasn’t reckless, or even particularly flamboyant, but it was very effective. Let’s hope it becomes a regular feature.
5) Enter at your own risk. Just as the wheels fell off the Warriors bandwagon incredibly quickly, you could argue that Saturday night’s convincing performance gives cause for jumping right back onboard. However, those returning should tread with caution. This was a win against a Broncos side missing no less than seven of its starting lineup, who completed less than 60 per cent of their sets. The Warriors did a lot of things right, but this match is not one Brisbane will look back on fondly.
6) Ticking the boxes. So it wasn’t the strongest opposition the Warriors will face in 2017, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and the men from Mt Smart did exactly that. We saw a forward pack that went forwards, a defensive line committed to winning the ruck, 100 per cent completion rate in the second half, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke taking on the line, and even an offload or two. There was plenty to smile about, and if Warrior Nation can build from here, we may just have some life in us yet.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS