Extreme Makeover

There was once a time when I spent many hours of my life watching Extreme Makeover. Sometimes it wasn’t just Extreme Makeover, but shows that were even more extreme, like The Swan. Before you get the wrong idea, yes I did have better things to be doing with my time, and no I don’t think that women (or men for that matter) should judge their self-worth by holding themselves up to unachievable standards of beauty.

The viewings were not for pleasure. Believe it or not, they were research for a media and communications course at university. ‘Discuss the various ways mass media reinforces stereotypes and perpetuates myths about gender and culture (among other things).’

For those of you who haven’t watched Extreme Makeover, it’s a reality TV show that gives contestants access to personal trainers, dentists, dermatologists, stylists and plastic surgeons for an entire year, in order to ‘makeover’ their body and reveal it to their loved ones in a moment of audiovisual triumph. Forcing yourself to sit through multiple episodes of such rubbish with a critical eye is certainly one way to see the societal damage shows like this can have, but I’m starting to realise I’m drifting a long way from the point I was hoping to make.

Despite all the negativity, there are some extraordinary transformations on these shows. Sometimes people shed literally half their body weight! But in all the episodes I watched, I never saw anything quite like the transformation this Warriors side has made between 2017 and 2018. You couldn’t script a bigger twist. It’s been truly astonishing. Is there a single person in Warrior Nation that saw this coming?

Thinking about it, perhaps it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. There’s certainly been a fair few nips and tucks. The forward pack underwent a complete overhaul. With Simon Mannering still out injured, the starting forwards for Round 3 included just two players (James Gavet and Issac Luke) who featured regularly in 2017, and one of those (Luke) appears to have undergone an extreme makeover of his own. Throw in the additions of Blake Green and Peta Hiku to the backline, and suddenly you realise that this collection of players looks vastly different to those who pulled on a Warriors jumper in 2017.

But the change has been much greater than anything cosmetic. It’s the emotional side of the transformation that I’ve been most impressed by. Last year this team looked out of ideas, like they’d lost all enjoyment for the game. Fans were clinging to positives like ‘at least they tried hard today’, as if that was something we could be proud of. It felt like the situation could get much worse before it got better.

Instead, we find ourselves watching a team that is resilient, unified and filled with belief. There is a togetherness that goes beyond the simple act of breathing as one. Attitude, enthusiasm, communication, composure, heart. You name it, these men from Mt Smart now have it in spades. Dare I say it, this looks like a team capable of surpassing all expectations. Can they win the competition? It sure would make for great viewing. Transformations don’t get any bigger than that.

SET OF SIX

1) How did this happen? Can anyone explain how this Warriors team went from being an accident waiting to happen to a side capable of the composure needed to come back from 13 points down to slot two field goals in the final two minutes of an away game against a desperate side?

Is it the new arrivals? Is it fitness? A change of approach by Stephen Kearney and his coaching staff? I’m still so stunned by the turnaround that I’m finding it hard to process. My guess is that it’s a combination of all the above, but it really doesn’t matter. I can’t wait for the next episode — the week from gameday to gameday now feels like a lifetime. Long may it continue, because it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch.

2) Can you think of a better regular season win by the Warriors? If you can, please send me the highlights. My memory isn’t the best, but I recall a game at Mt Smart in the pouring rain, against Melbourne I think, when the Warriors defended all day and won with a score like 8–6 (would that be right). I distinctly remember Brent Tate raising his arms in celebration (or did I dream this?). It was a tough win that embodied all the characteristics that we admire. But Saturday night felt more impressive. It was the kind of game that the ghosts of Warriors past would have lost. One that they could have easily brushed off with excuses about penalty counts and execution. But instead they hung in there, never gave up, never stopped believing and won a game without playing particularly well at all.

3) Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s emergence as a leader has been tremendous. Much has been made of RTS’s impressive start to the season, and rightly so. The Warriors’ skipper has made at least one outstanding try-saving tackle in each of the first three rounds — something particularly noteworthy given, up until this season, I wouldn’t have said defence was up there with his strong points — as well as being energetic and creative with ball in hand. But the most impressive thing for me has been his apparent growth as a leader. I’ll admit I was incredibly sceptical about his initial selection as captain, and then again when he retained the role for 2018. From the outside, he didn’t look like a natural leader in 2017. He led with his actions, but that was all I could see. He didn’t appear vocal enough or have the commanding presence that suggested he was someone well suited for that role. But I’m thrilled to say I was totally wrong. So far this season he’s been nothing short of inspirational. He’s made improvements to his game, is the first person to congratulate teammates on a job well done and makes a point of bringing the team together whenever possible. And on Saturday, while the majority of his teammates swarmed Shaun Johnson to celebrate the field goal that made it 20–19, it was RTS that was motioning everyone back to halfway to make sure they finished the job. That contract extension is looking sweeter and sweeter by the day.

4) The Warriors go marching. Much is always made of the enormous Raiders forward pack, but you might be surprised to discover that the Warriors’ average set distance was greater than Canberra’s. With Maumalo and Fusitu’a starting off sets and then the forwards digging in, the Warriors were able to march up the field on numerous occasions, which ultimately led to the back-to-back field goals that clinched the victory.

5) Bench Bunty making a huge impact. The way Bunty Afoa adjusted to the second row in 2017 was notable. A front-rower in the under-20s, Afoa didn’t let himself down in the 80-minute role on the edge, despite his lack of flair. There’s a good chance that some of the skills he learned in that position have helped his development, but after watching him this season, I’m convinced he’s better suited up the middle in shorter bursts. He’s carried the ball with so much energy, charging through the line with real force. He’s been the definition of an impact player, and in limited minutes he’s been close to best on ground whenever he’s been on the field.

6) Far from perfect — again. Saturday’s win might go down as one of the Warriors’ most impressive, but it was a long way from the perfect performance. They missed 45 tackles, gave away silly penalties and struggled to execute on attack. Shaun Johnson was quiet (until those drop goals) and Canberra had chances to put the game to bed long before the final whistle. But the men from Mt Smart found a way. They did something — won their third straight game to start the season — that they’ve never done before, and there’s still plenty of room to improve. They’ll need to improve to beat the Roosters, but right now anything seems possible. Anyone else been checking out flights to Sydney at the end of September?

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FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

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