More than ten years ago now, I visited San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, affectionately known as the SFMOMA. I’m no art buff and definitely couldn’t identify a Monet from a Manet, but it was well worth the visit. There were wacky sculptures, impressive photos of things both old and new, and even a triple-barrel Elvis with guns drawn.
Notwithstanding the vast collection of art, there was one painting that stood out above the rest. Three white panels. That was it, as if someone bought blank canvasses from the hardware store and hung them up on the wall as some kind of clever prank.
The first time I saw it, I felt a mixture of confusion, disappointment and disgust. It had to be a mistake, I thought. Where was the ‘Exhibit Coming Soon’ sign? This wasn’t art, it wasn’t an object worthy of praise or critical acclaim. It was something I could have painted, something a five-year-old could have made.
The thoughts stayed with me as I walked around the rest of the museum but, for reasons I’ll never know, I went back to White Painting and sat down on the bench opposite. As I looked up at the panels for a second time, my mindset began to change. The painting might still have been ridiculous, but the thought of Robert Rauschenberg convincing someone that his creation had value made me smile. The man was a genius, a weaver who’d created the emperor’s new clothes. He’d taken nothing, told people it was something and fame and fortune followed.
When the whistle signalled full time on Friday night, I was convinced that I had witnessed a below-average game of rugby league, played by two teams who weren’t actually very good. A win is a win, but I was incredibly underwhelmed. The Mt Smart atmosphere felt flat, it seemed like the game was played at half-pace and the Warriors barely ground out a victory against a Bulldogs team that looked jetlagged and disinterested. ‘A good side would have won by twenty,’ I told myself.
However, much like I failed to give Mr Rauschenberg enough credit, on second glance it seems as though I may have been a little harsh on our men from Mt Smart. The end-of-season standings might yet suggest that neither the Bulldogs nor the Warriors are actually very good but, for now at least, it turns out there was plenty to be pleased about.
With Kieran Foran ruled out prior to kick off and Issac Luke suffering a dislocated shoulder late in the first half, the Warriors found themselves in the thick of a grind. It was a match that they seemed in control of for long periods, but for one reason or another they couldn’t shake the Bulldogs and thus it became the kind of match that feels soul-destroying to lose — think back to Round 3 at Forsyth Barr. Instead of collapsing under the strain, the men from Mt Smart weathered a brief spell of Bulldog resurgence, steadied themselves and closed out the match. There were excellent performances from the bench, The Warriors’ forward pack nullified the usually dominant Bulldogs and Ken Maumalo channelled his inner Jonah Lomu. The game wasn’t always pretty to look at, and it seems unlikely it will go down as a masterpiece, but hopefully it’s two points that increase in value over time.
SET OF SIX
1) I always knew it was a good idea to have Nathaniel Roache on the bench. After riding the pine for weeks on end, waiting for an opportunity, Issac Luke’s shoulder injury in the 33rd minute finally gave Nathaniel Roache the chance to show everyone what he could do. And boy did he do a great job. I’ll be the first to admit my frustration with how the Warriors have effectively been playing with 16 in so many of their games this season, but, first with Ata Hingano against the Titans and then with Roache on Friday night, Stephen Kearney is channelling his inner Nostradamus, and it’s paying off.
2) Shaun Johnson controlled the game with his boot. Shaun Johnson has had an up-and-down year, much like many of his seasons in the NRL to-date, and the main criticisms directed his way usually stem from a desire to see him use his running game to spark the Warriors’ attack. On Friday night, things weren’t clicking from the boots up, with a few stray passes and some disjointed attack at times, but, particularly in the first half, Johnson demonstrated his ability to influence the game in other ways. With an impressive array of kicks both short and long, Johnson kept the Bulldogs on the back foot and, in doing so, allowed the Warriors to dictate the tempo of the match.
3) Was Johnson too dominant? This might be a little critical — with Kieran Foran out injured, perhaps we’d be suggesting Shaun Johnson had been too passive if he hadn’t been the dominant half. But to me it seemed a shame that the Warriors’ most damaging edge (David Fusitua and Ken Maumalo) barely touched the ball inside the Bulldogs’ half. Foran has been named for the trip to Perth, but if we do see a Hingano/Johnson combination again this season, I’d like to see Johnson show a little more faith in the young fella.
4) The bench is starting to fire. We’ve already touched on Nathaniel Roache, and Albert Vete only played 9 minutes, but I really enjoyed the three-prop bench. Sam Lisone (almost 100 metres from his 8 hit-ups), James Gavet (122 metres from 12 hit-ups, and the most minutes of all the props at 42), and even Vete in his short stint, had a significant impact, providing a lift in energy and an offensive spark. I’m still of the opinion that the Warriors could benefit from their second-rowers getting a short breather, but the front-row rotation is finally starting to build some momentum.
5) Is Roger Tuivasa-Sheck the worst dummy-half passer in the game? I’ll admit I haven’t studied opposition players as closely as I have Roger, but take a look for yourself next time El Capitan lends a hand. This isn’t really even meant as a criticism. To be honest, I mention it mainly because I’m so confused by the fact that someone so skilled in so many other areas of the game can make a dummy-half pass look so uncoordinated. You be the judge and get back to me. I’d love to hear if Roger has any rivals to his crown.
6) The Warriors played smart football. Perhaps the main reason for my frustration immediately following Friday night’s fixture, was that the men from Mt Smart appeared in total control of that game for large parts, but couldn’t put the Bulldogs out of sight. But, despite being a Greg Eastwood bobble away from serious danger, they were able to compose themselves in the key moments to secure a valuable two points. In a week when a loss could have almost spelled the end of their finals hopes, they demonstrated the situational awareness to kick a drop goal with 12 minutes still on the clock and, on reflection, never allowed the Bulldogs to get into any sort of rhythm. The trip to Perth has never been an easy one, but hopefully we’ll look back in a week’s time and notice the subtle influences of last Friday night’s creation in a masterful victory against Manly.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Triple Elvis pic: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41418636
White Painting pic: sourced from https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.308.A-C