Pop quiz, Warrior Nation: You’re heading to the Gold Coast with your season on the brink of self-destruction, and when the whistle blows you’ll face a Titans team just as desperate as you.
What do you do?
You know that when you’re at your best, you can match it with anyone in the NRL, but the moment you take your foot off the pedal, bad things happen.
What do you do?
What do you do?
And, most of all, you know your former captain — a man who has played 300 games and given absolutely everything he’s got in every single one of them — is celebrating a milestone that puts him in the same company with some of the greats of the game.
What do you do?
You press your foot down on the accelerator. And you keep it there until the authorities tell you it’s safe to stop.
SET OF SIX
1) Need for Speed. Oftentimes this season the Warriors’ attack has looked stunted, with laboured hit ups and halves running sideways, but on Saturday the men from Mt Smart ran with the kind of intent and purpose that we’ve all been waiting for. They started sets well, the big boys knocked defenders out of the way and the spine took full advantage of the offloads and the quick play-the-balls.
Once they left their danger zone, the men from Mt Smart travelled as a pack, with multiple players in motion on every hit up, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck running off shoulders and Issac Luke waiting out the back for second-phase. For the first time in 2017 it felt like if a Warriors’ player got their arms free, someone else would be there to gather a short ball or an offload.
The scoring flurry may have been mostly contained to a seven-minute burst just before halftime, but even when things weren’t flowing quite as smoothly, the tempo at which the Warriors played made sure they were always on the front foot. While the men from Mt Smart definitely don’t have the biggest forward pack in the competition, if they can remain as mobile as they were against the Titans, then maybe size doesn’t matter.
2) Have you been reading, Coach Kearney? The use of the bench has been a sore spot in almost every match review this season, and replacing a hooker (Nathaniel Roache) with a half (Ata Hingano) didn’t seem likely to change much. But the hungry hungry hippos (Sam Lisone and Albert Vete) both played over 30 minutes, Bunty Afoa gave Simon Mannering a breather and Ata Hingano didn’t miss a beat when he stepped in for the injured Kieran Foran. What a difference it makes when every member of the match-day 17 makes a significant impact on the game.
3) How good did Ata Hingano look?! Like the majority of Warrior Nation, I was eternally hopeful Kieran Foran would decide to stay on our shores for at least one more year before returning to Sydney, but maybe the silver lining is Hingano signing on the dotted line. Some might say we shouldn’t get carried away after a 17-minute cameo when the game was already as good as won, but if you can’t get excited after the first away win of the season, when can you? Hingano looked confident, creative and enthusiastic, and combined brilliantly with Shaun Johnson to score his first NRL try. If that was a glimpse into the Warriors’ future, I like where this is heading.
4) A fitting tribute for Ryan Hoffman. He’s an absolute pro who leads by example and it was clear that the men from Mt Smart wanted to make his night one to remember. Just look at the eruption of joy when Hoffman kicks the final goal.
Those moments of pure delight have been few and far between this season, but the way Hoffman was mobbed by his teammates shows the respect he’s earned both at the club and across the entire NRL. He’ll be playing elsewhere next season, but he’ll always be remembered fondly here at NRL Warrior HQ.
5) Bodene Thompson answered a few critics. It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for Bodene. Contract negotiations appear to have stalled, and that seems to have coincided with a dip in form. His defensive combination with Shaun Johnson still looks shaky, but with 46 tackles and only one miss, plus two offloads which led directly to tries, Saturday was arguably his best game in 2017. Whether it’s enough to earn a new contract, however, only time will tell.
6) Let’s see that again. Okay, the trip to the GC was a good example of what this Warriors side is capable of, but we’ve seen this movie before. What we need now is for them to do it again. And again. And again, until that type of performance becomes the new normal, and the inconsistency becomes a thing of the past. With games against the Bulldogs, Manly and the Panthers upcoming — all teams in the cluster of squads fighting out those last few playoff spots — the Warriors’ fate is somewhat back in their own hands.
Enjoy the pit stop Warrior Nation, and make sure you refuel, because when we come back after the bye it’s time to put the pedal to the metal.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS