Once Upon A Time

My two year old loves listening to stories. Most of the time we read a book, but sometimes he says ‘You tell me a story’, which means he wants me to make one up. So usually I’ll tell him a story about a boy who went on the bus or the train with his grandparents. In one version, they all visit the tall, tall tower in the city, where the window-cleaner waves at him from outside the building. In another, they go to the playground and he climbs to the top of a big slide before racing down on his tummy.

We lead quite the exciting life.

But over the past few days, I’ve been telling him a new story, one about journeying on a different vehicle. At the start it seems like a sad story, one that might not ever have a happy ending, but if you keep the faith, you’ll be smiling by the end. It goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a man who lived in a place called Warrior Nation. For many years, it had not been a happy place. Occasionally the sun would try to peer through the grey, dreary clouds. The man would look up with excitement, he would imagine that good times were near, that he would soon feel the warmth on his face and see the full brightness of the world around him. But as quickly as the hope came, it disappeared again.

Warrior Nation had once been a thriving metropolis. It was once a place where people dreamed of lives filled with excitement and glory. The residents spoke proudly of their history. They told tales of grand finals and long-range tries. They reminisced about powerful beasts and masterful little generals who had once graced the land. But, in recent years, Warrior Nation has failed to live up to its promise. And so the people left. Lots of them. They moved to the foot of the Blue Mountains, went to ride with the Cowboys or sample the rich headwear available in Roosterville.

This made our man feel lonely. Even in those rare times when good things happened to him, or to Warrior Nation, it seemed like no one was around to share in the delight. He had to retreat to his computer, to the deep dark recesses of the internet, to find other members of his tribe who shared his excitement.

Then, one day, the leader of Warrior Nation sent a raven to deliver a message to a man they called Alex. ‘They say that prosperity follows you wherever you go. Our once great nation is troubled. We are willing to work, but we have lost our way. Will you help us?’ read the parchment. ‘Name your price,’ were the final words. A few days later, Alex arrived in Warrior Nation.

At first our man was sceptical. How could one person change the fortunes of an entire nation? So-called saviours arrived at his doorstep regularly. What made this Alex any different?

But slowly, people began to trickle back into town. Some came to strengthen the army. There was Tohu and Blake. Peta and Agnatius. Adam and Leivaha. Others, like Brian, came to lend their wisdom to governance. The dark mood was lifting, but still our man was  tentative. He had believed many times before. And been hurt. Badly. He was reluctant to dive in with all his heart. But even in his cautious state he could not deny that the people of Warrior Nation appeared more unified, more purposeful than they had for many years. They made less noise, spoke with less bravado, but they stood with their shoulders back and their heads held high.

The first battle took place in a distant land. Our man watched on expecting the worst, but still hopeful this quiet confidence he had witnessed would translate into a positive outcome. It did. The troops returned victorious. But still they spoke softly. They looked forward to the hard work to be done. They examined the battleground for lessons that could be learned. They did not get carried away in their success.

A week later, the man noticed a quiet buzz spreading around the nation. Many new arrivals praised the work of Alex. Our man had seen the bandwagons rolling through the gates many times over the days previous. He even had to queue for his morning coffee. The place felt alive, but he knew how quickly the air can escape from a balloon.

Then it happened again. The troops were victorious once more. This time on home soil. They fought with style and flair. And at the same time they defended their turf with passion and pride. They were a delight to watch. The bandwagons rolled through the gates. Even bigger this time. Packed to the brim. Some people were returning home. Others were moving simply to experience this newfound sense of prosperity. Warrior Nation was suddenly the place to be. But still the troops kept their feet on the ground. They looked for opportunities to improve.

Filled with renewed optimism, our man gathered up his most important belongings and threw them in his rucksack. He knew that there was much water to go under the bridge before he could claim Warrior Nation to be the jewel in the NRL crown. But still he picked up his pen and began to write. ‘See you at the big dance,’ he scrawled in big bold letters. Then he walked out the door and marched proudly down the road, forever hopeful that his happily ever after was just around the next corner.

SET OF SIX

1) What a difference a year makes. Or even a few months. At the end of 2017, this squad looked dead and buried. They lacked enthusiasm and excitement. Passion for the jersey felt, at least from the outside, as if it was at an all-time low. Fast-forward to 2018 and every action appears purposeful. All the little game-day one-percenters, starting with warm-ups and flowing on to kick chase and support play, have drastically improved, and it’s having an enormous impact on the quality of football produced.

2) How many years would you like to sign for, Tohu? Last week I touched on the new arrivals and the way that their steady play built a platform from which the likes of Shaun Johnson and RTS could flourish. Nothing changed in Round 2, and in particular that Johnson, Harris, Hiku, Fusitua edge looks like it’s going to be great to watch in 2018. Tohu Harris is proving to be that unique kind of player that is reliable but also capable of producing those game-changing moments. Sign him up to that lifetime contract before it’s too late.

3) What happened to the huge crowd? All week reports suggested a bumper crowd was turning up at Mt Smart. Warriors Twitter was filled with estimates of 18–20,000 people and images of ‘Sold Out’ banners on Ticketmaster. And then they never came. Don’t get me wrong, 14,000 was a decent number, and the atmosphere was strong, but was the ‘Sold Out’ buzz all a sham?

Sold Out

4) Never die with the football. In the days since Saturday’s win against the Titans, Blake Green has spoken about the importance of maintaining control, but isn’t it great to see players constantly in motion and willing to throw the ball around. Far too often last season the Warriors were overly predictable. They ran one-out with no support player running through and struggled offensively as a result. Green is right in so much as it’s important the players don’t get carried away with the razzle-dazzle, but simply having a mindset that the play is always alive has completely transformed this team on attack.

5) Still plenty to work on. This is a repeat from last week, but it applies again, and that’s a great thing. For much of Saturday’s game, it felt like the Warriors were gaining ascendency but couldn’t put the Titans away. The scoreline could have been 40–2, but equally it could have been 20–22 if the Gold Coast had better luck with the video referee and/or some of their execution. But if the men from Mt Smart can continue to improve, it could be a big party at the NRL Warrior’s house in six month’s time.

Betslip

6) The upcoming fixtures look daunting. It’s been a spectacularly positive start, but the next 6 games will give a true indication of where this Warriors team is at. Starting with the Raiders away and then followed by Roosters (A), Cowboys (H), Broncos (H), Dragons (H) and Storm (A), it’s about as tough as a run of games can get. But, instead of dreading it, for the first time in a while, I’m really excited about how this squad might meet the challenge.

FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

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