It’s a Simple Game

Sometimes life can be hard. You can wake up in the middle of the night with a million and one things running through your head and be unable to find a single solution. Your car can break down the day after you had it serviced, right when you’re on your way to pick up your kids from school. You can do your very best to be prepared and organised, you can try your hardest to be kind and generous, but that doesn’t guarantee life will play out exactly how you want it to or that you will get what you deserve.

On these days, it can feel like the whole world is conspiring against you: your colleagues, your family, the referee. It doesn’t seem to matter that you were the first person to work and the last to leave, or that you stopped buying coffee for two months to save up to buy the indigenous jersey especially so you could wear it during the indigenous round, so you could demonstrate that you are a committed supporter and that you would do whatever it takes to help the club win both on and off the field. It doesn’t matter that you have been dreaming about success since 1995, which is actually before some of these players were born, because sometimes no matter how hard you try or how much you care, there’s still a chance that a bunch of Roosters will show up at your house, score 32 unanswered points and make you wonder why you even bothered.

Then there are other times when life is simple. You study hard and ace an exam. You go above and beyond at work and the boss gives you a pay rise. You try to be the best parent you can be and your son hugs you and says that he loves you. On the flip side, you might stay up late watching a full replay of every playoff game on the road to the grand final in 2002 and then you’re unable to concentrate at work the next day. It’s cause and effect. You do something and an expected outcome occurs. These can be good days, sometimes even great days, when the world and your place within it make total sense.

Friday night may not go down in Warriors’ history as a great day, but it was certainly a night that reminded us that rugby league can be a very simple game. If you try harder than the opposition, you can go a long way towards winning a match. For the first 40 minutes, the men from Mt Smart ran hard, controlled the ball and looked easily the better side, both on the scoreboard and by the eye test. Then, for the next 25 minutes, Parramatta ran the hardest and, surprise surprise, they were the better team. Fortunately, the Warriors sparked back into action and snatched an important two points. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a good reminder that sometimes you get out what you put in.

SET OF SIX

1) Don’t kick it, Paasi it. That line has very little to do with what is to follow, but I couldn’t hold it back any longer. The point I’m trying to make is that the Warriors’ pack, led by Agnatius Paasi, set the tone for the Warriors’ first-half performance. They ran hard, dented the defensive line and turned that dominance into points (maybe not enough points, but points nonetheless). Paasi in particular was a standout, and there was a noticeable drop off in energy when he left the field. At times it felt like the men from Mt Smart were moving in slow motion, until Paasi’s return in the second half helped to kickstart things back into action.

2) Is James Gavet’s injury still lingering? While 2017 was a disappointing year, one of the bright spots was the performance of James Gavet. Whenever he was on the field, it seemed like he wanted to make something positive happen. Countless times he’d wind up and charge into the opposition’s defensive line, but since returning from his injury this season, that run up has disappeared. It’s not that he’s doing a bad job, but it makes me wonder if something is still not quite right, as it feels like he’s got another gear that he hasn’t yet found in recent weeks.

3) Twinkle toes. One player who has found an extra gear in 2018, and probably hasn’t received as much praise for it as he should have, is Ken Maumalo. Big Ken was often criticised in 2017, both for his handling errors and his defence, but a closer look at his career suggests he’s someone who’s been steadily improving at the NRL level. This season that improvement has accelerated. Not only has he shown relatively safe hands and generally made the right decision on defence (including two crucial reads as Parramatta attacked the Warriors’ line late in the first half, while the Warriors were down to 12 men), he’s also added to his offensive game. His carries out of his own end have always been brave, but these days, if you watch carefully you might see Big Ken break out the fancy footwork, side-stepping just before he gets tackled. This usually amounts to a few extra metres, putting the opposition off balance and helping him to get up and play the ball quickly. It’s only a small thing, but it’s made a significant difference, and is one reason why he’s averaging over 150 running metres per game in 2018.

4) Butterfly effect. Sometimes a small thing can cause a massive ripple effect. Never was that clearer than the referees deciding not to penalise Parramatta for a clear obstruction in the lead-up to Isaiah Papali’i’s sinbinning. What had been a comfortable Warriors lead turned into a nervous second half, until a similar no call — a Parramatta error that ricocheted from Solomone Kata’s legs towards an offside Ken Maumalo who picked it up and ran 50 metres — led to a Warriors try that swung things back in their favour.

5) Selection conundrum ahead. With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on baby watch, we got our first glimpse at NRL level of Gerard Beale in a Warriors jumper. Aside from a rough patch in the second half where Clint Gutherson beat him for pace to score Parramatta’s first try, and a silly penalty, Beale looked every bit the part of a solid offseason signing. With the other centres and wingers performing well so far this season, Stephen Kearney resisted the urge to slot Beale straight back into the team, but hopefully it’s put everyone on notice that there are replacements waiting if they take their foot off the gas.

6) Four-point game. The match before the bye week always feels significant. It’s a chance to go into a break on a positive note, and in the not-so-distant past you could get two points for a win and then another two points for the bye and it felt like you were charging up the ladder. There are no points awarded for the bye any longer, but this week acts as a four-point game for a different reason: the possible four-point swing against the Rabbitohs, which could be crucial to the Warriors’ top 4 chances. Win and the men from Mt Smart will open up a four-point gap on the Rabbits, but a loss could see them fall to fifth, with heavyweights like Melbourne and the Roosters close behind. We’re not yet at the halfway point, but this shapes as a big opportunity for the Warriors to put some distance on the chasing pack.

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