It’s hard to imagine Charles Dickens was a big sports fan, let alone a frustrated member of Warrior Nation, but it’s almost impossible to argue with his powers of prediction. More than 150 years before Friday night’s loss to the Eels, Charlie put his frustration into words. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.’
While Dickens’ opening lines began a story filled with conflict, struggle, self-sacrifice and love that remains relevant today, he could just as easily have been preparing his match review from Friday night, or a season recap of every year since the club made the grand final in 2011. Although the storylines have differed from season to season, and key characters have emerged or been vanquished from time to time, the general plotline has remained the same.
There were certainly moments against the Eels when it was the best of times, when the men from Mt Smart made it look like they could score at will the minute they entered Parramatta’s 20-metre zone, or when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck stepped past half their squad to set the stage for another classic comeback.
But ultimately there were too many moments when it was the worst of times, with silly penalties and soft tries ensuring the Warriors remain winless in Australia in 2017. In isolation, it might be possible to excuse away any of the missed tackles or defensive misreads that led to each of the Parramatta tries, but collectively they add up to 32 points conceded — a figure not conducive to winning many games, and one that suggests a fundamental defensive problem that felt like it was fixed only a month ago.
Just 13 rounds into what was meant to be the season of Light, we find ourselves at the edge of another winter of despair, with inconsistent performances plaguing the club and baffling everyone in Warrior Nation. The men from Mt Smart need to win at least seven, possibly eight, of their remaining eleven matches to make the Top 8, and the great expectations we had in the spring of hope now look increasingly likely to amount to nothing.
SET OF SIX
1) A tale of two countries. Why can’t the Warriors win in Australia? Shontayne Hape looked at a loss to explain things on The After Match, and I feel his pain. Winning away from home has always been a difficult task for the men from Mt Smart, but surely it shouldn’t be this difficult, especially in the professional era where sports science and high-performance analytics are at an all-time high. With six more away games this season, the Warriors need to find a cure for this hoodoo quickly or the winter of despair will arrive even earlier than usual in 2017.
2) Does it hurt the Warriors to have three 80-minute backrowers? I feel like I’m continually writing about the ineffective nature of the Warriors’ bench, but things don’t seem to be improving. I can understand there’s only so much prop rotation you can do, and also see the value of keeping Issac Luke on the paddock for as long as possible. But could the men from Mt Smart get more value out of their backrowers by giving at least a couple of them (I’m thinking Hoffman and Thompson) a short breather? A lot was made of Parramatta’s injuries, which eventually reduced them to just 14 fit players, but the Warriors basically consigned themselves to the same fate. Nathaniel Roache racked up another DNP-CD, while Sam Lisone and Albert Vete played just 24 and 21 minutes respectively. Compare that to Parramatta’s injured players: Kaysa Pritchard, 9 minutes (more than Roache); David Gower, 24 minutes (more than Vete), Josh Hoffman, 30 minutes (more than Lisone, and the same as Jacob Lillyman). Suddenly it doesn’t seem like the Warriors had any advantage at all, and they’ve only got themselves to blame.
3) Good things happen when Issac Luke runs the ball. He can’t take all the credit for it, as the opportunities don’t arrive unless the Warriors are on the front foot, but the men from Mt Smart look so much more dangerous when Issac Luke is heavily involved.
4) David Fusitua and Ken Maumalo are a great one-two punch. The Warriors forward pack still has its limitations, but the way Fusitua and Maumalo were able to carry their side out of the danger zone played a massive role in restricting the damage. Maumalo in particular continues to grow from week to week, slowly convincing his doubters (of which I was one) that he’s the right man for the job.
5) Nathan Brown wanted to win more than the Warriors did. There’s no shame in being beaten by a better side, but there’s really no excuse for being out-enthused. There was no better example of that on Friday night than Nathan Brown, whose energy levels never dropped from the first minute to the eightieth. He ran for almost 180 metres, made almost 40 tackles and his contagious effort was instrumental in helping an arguably weaker Parramatta side secure the two points against their more talented opponents.
6) Silly season seems to be taking a long time. Is it just me, or should the club have more than 18 players contracted for 2018 by now? Maybe it simply seems more impactful in light of the recent struggles, but it feels late in the season for the futures of so many players in and around the NRL squad still to be resolved. And maybe or maybe it doesn’t impact on performance, but surely it’s a little unsettling for the likes of Bodene Thompson, Jacob Lillyman, Albert Vete, Nathaniel Roache, Blake Ayshford, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Ata Hingano to be unsure about where they’ll be playing their football next year and beyond. Hopefully we’ll get some good news on and off the field in the coming weeks.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS