Full disclosure: I thought long and hard about the value of writing another 1000 words about another disappointing evening watching our beloved Warriors. This past month, in particular, ever since the finals dream was over, it’s felt like everyone — players, coaching staff, media, fans — has been going through the motions waiting for this nightmare to end. And now, mercifully, that the end is here, there seems little need to explore the minutiae of the final nail in the coffin. The post-mortem results will be written in due course — the embalming solution has been injected and the superficial evidence has been recorded — but for a crime as severe as this season, it’s important not to rush things, it’s crucial that the examination is as thorough as possible.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned from Stephen Kearney in 2017, it’s that completion rate is very, very, very important. So it doesn’t matter whether you find these words boring, uninspiring, or even completely lacking in logic. It doesn’t matter if the text doesn’t excite you, or whether I’m successful at making my point. What I have learned is that what matters most is simply to say that I’ve crafted match reviews for 19 of the Warriors’ 24 NRL fixtures. The act of doing something, completing something, rather than concerning yourself with whether what you are doing is useful and effective, is significant and valuable. Yes, I appreciate I’ve left myself room for improvement (Note to self: avoid overseas in-season holidays at all costs), but a completion rate of nearly 80 per cent, with an emphasis on reducing the error count, means the ‘Achieved’ banner can go up at NRL Warrior HQ for another year. #TrustTheProcess
SET OF SIX
1) Is it really ‘Back to Basics’ if so many basic elements are being overlooked or ignored? As dull as it is to watch at times, in principle I can see the benefits to playing structured, error-free, simple football — even if it’s not necessarily the way I’d approach things. But surely if you are going to play that way, you need to be doing all the one-percenters in order to make that style effective. If you’re going to cut out the offloads, why not still have your spine lurking in support to draw a defender or two away from the ruck? If you’re planning to structure your sets with five hit-ups then a kick, why wouldn’t you at least attempt to run a little wider, target smaller defenders or do everything possible to ensure you are tackled onto your tummy so you can get up and play the ball quickly? If you’re struggling for metres, why wouldn’t you kick early to get out of your own end? I could go on and on. Maybe these one-percenters are parts of the process we’ll get to in time, but they don’t seem all that complex and would surely make a world of difference.
2) Solomone Kata’s defence is atrocious. To any of you who’ve watched the Warriors in 2017, that statement will hardly come as a revelation. I’ve been restraining myself from writing it, hoping beyond all hope that things would get better, mainly because he was so awful in 2015 but then seemed to make huge strides in 2016, to the point where he was reliable enough to be selected for the Kiwis. But, unfortunately, his recent defensive efforts have regressed to even lower levels than when he first entered top grade. The communication between him and the defenders around him seems almost non-existent, and his decision-making is all over the place. One minute he’s backpedalling, the next minute he’s rushing out of the line. If the Gerard Beale rumours are true, Kata will need to improve out of sight in order to maintain his spot in the backline in 2018.
3) Slick. One bright spot in recent weeks has been the glimpses of slick set plays inside the opposition’s red zone. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been a key figure, crossing the line untouched on every occasion, as the moves played out to perfection. If this is a sign of things to come from this coaching staff, I’ll be very pleased, but it does make me wonder why we haven’t seen it more often in 2017? If the Warriors have been capable of reaching that level of creation and deception, why was it that they looked like they’d run out of ideas on attack so often this season?
4) Thanks for the memories, Hoffy. After tasting almost nothing but success throughout his rugby league career, the portrait of Ryan Hoffman’s playing days with the Warriors might make for an unsightly mess on his otherwise glittery resume. There’s no doubt that Hoffman arrived at Mt Smart with his best days behind him, but it certainly feels like he’s given it his all over here. Ever the professional, he’s still representing the club as best as he can right until the end. We’ll always have that chargedown in Cronulla, Ryan.
5) The Warriors have placed a big bet on Ata Hingano. It was impossible to watch Sunday night’s game without wondering how things would have played out in Warrior Nation if the club had decided not to pursue Kieran Foran and instead given Tui Lolohea an opportunity to play in the halves all year. By no means am I claiming the season would have been any better, or that Tui Lolohea is (or ever will be) a top-quality NRL #6. The jury is still out on that one, but it’s an interesting thought experiment all the same. In real terms, the Warriors have effectively determined that Ata Hingano will be a better player than Lolohea, and it will be intriguing to follow both of their careers in the seasons to come.
6) Maybe it’s not all doom and gloom. This season has been an absolute disaster. From the results to the brand of football, there’s been almost nothing positive to come from 2017, or at least it feels that way while these wounds are still so fresh. BUT (yes, it’s a big but), if you look back through the results, you’ll likely find anywhere between 6–9 games where you’ll think to yourself ‘they wouldn’t have had to be much better to have won that match’. As bad as it’s been, so many of the losses seemed winnable, both at the time and on reflection, if only for improved effort, better execution or the bounce of a ball. And while those are all significant elements of the game of rugby league, they’re also things that can be fixed without an injection of new talent. Maybe it’s just my refusal to end on a bad note, but maybe, just maybe, there actually is a glimmer of hope that the Warriors can turn this mess around 2018.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS