In many ways, to be a true supporter of the Warriors you have to always believe that the glass is half full. Every season is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and in the past few years there’s been a fair few carriages drive completely off the tracks. After so many rough rides, it’s no surprise that some fans decide to get off for good (until the next new attraction comes along at least!).
But year after year of disappointment also makes you naturally sceptical. It makes it hard to ward off the negative thoughts, those voices inside your head that whisper Today’s the day that it all falls apart, before every kick off, no matter what the circumstances.
This season has been an absolute joy (heavy defeats aside). The football has been exciting and determined, and there’s a real sense that a culture shift is in progress. Despite all that, those voices lingered during the bye week. Bad losses to good teams meant there were questions to be answered, fresh doubts that opened up old wounds.
Sometimes those voices can drive you crazy, take you down a rabbit hole of memories that you don’t want to re-live. They can convince you that it doesn’t matter how much Manly have been struggling, because all it takes is one lapse in concentration or one injury or one bounce of the ball and all the good work of the season so far can be undone. They tell you that Taupau and Fonua-Blake will march up the middle and that it doesn’t matter that Shaun Johnson is back because Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is out.
When Manly takes an 8–0 lead, it starts to feel as though maybe all that chatter is right. You get that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach and you wonder how you’ll pick yourself up again if another season turns to custard. And then Blake Green puts Isaiah Papali’I through a gap and everything goes silent. Another hour passes and you cheer and shout and high-five and fist-pump. You jump up and down and spontaneous smiles spread across your face so often they start to feel programmed. Then suddenly the whistle blows and you hear the roar of the Garden City crowd, and then nothing. You see Blake Green speaking, but there is no sound, only joy.
It feels marvellous to mute those voices of doubt. There’s nothing quite like complete silence. I’m aware it doesn’t make any sense, but total silence has a very distinct sound. It’s like watching gentle waves rolling up the beach, like a sunrise over a snow-capped mountain. It is calm. It is relief. It is peace. It is victory. It is pure joy. It will last until Friday. Enjoy every second.
SET OF SIX
1) Welcome back Shaun Johnson. The evening didn’t start well for Johnson, with him kicking the ball out on the full with his first meaningful touch, but it sure ended in style. In the first half, he did his damage without the ball, sweeping around outside Blake Green to divert attention away from excellent line running by Isaiah Papali’i and then Tohu Harris. In the second 40, his combination with Issac Luke and David Fusitu’a tore the Sea Eagles apart, putting the game beyond doubt long before the final whistle. Obviously the team needs to be going forward for Johnson to be most effective, but this game certainly highlighted how dangerous the Warriors’ attack can be when Johnson is on top form.
2) Classic Simon Mannering. It always worries me when I hear players talk about retirement. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to give 110 per cent to the present when part of you is thinking about the future. But early in the second half, with the Warriors only leading 12–8, we witnessed another classic Simon Mannering moment. A Jake Trbojevic inside ball to his brother Tom, who looked set to burst through the line and threaten to score, until Mr Reliable dived across in the nick of time to shut down the play. And to make things even better, a few plays later, David Fusitu’a trampled Trent Hodkinson, charged downfield and set Shaun Johnson up for the try that started an electric 20 minutes for the men from Mt Smart.
3) Is David Fusitu’a entering the ‘best winger in the NRL’ conversation? There are plenty of good wingers in the NRL, but ‘the Fus’ has to be right up there on current form. He has the size and strength needed to start sets and his ability to finish in the corner never ceases to amaze. Defensively, he’s got a safe pair of hands and generally makes the right read. Best of all, he’s only getting better. Is there anyone else in the comp you’d rather have?
4) What was up with Manly’s kicking game? It was clearly a tactic of Manly’s to kick to the corners and put the ball into touch. The logic makes sense: nullify the pace and power of the Warriors’ wingers by forcing them to ruck it out against a set defensive line just 10 metres away. But when they start turning down attacking kicks to simply put the ball in touch, the logic starts to fall away. It felt particularly negative, especially after the Sea Eagles held the early lead.
5) Can the Warriors keep Issac Luke? If you’d have asked every member of Warrior Nation in 2017 whether the club should do everything in their power to re-sign Issac Luke, you’d have probably got a fairly unanimous ‘No’. Luke’s fitness was in question, and he simply wasn’t impacting the game in the way we’d hoped when he was signed from the Rabbitohs. Therefore it’s hard to criticise the club for diverting their finances in other directions. But here we are, past the halfway point of 2018, Luke has arguably been the player of the season and now it looks as though the Warriors won’t have the funds to keep him at Mt Smart, despite the inexperience of potential replacements like Karl Lawton and Nathaniel Roache. As I said, it’s hard to criticise the club based on performances over the previous two years, but if they can’t find common ground with Luke, it’s going to feel like a huge blow. I like the Leeson Ah Mau signing, but could that money have been redistributed to keep Issac?
6) Can the Warriors find some consistency? The win against Manly makes it 9 consecutive games of win/loss. That’s WLWLWLWLW. Does that pattern make anyone else scared about this week? Either way, it’s critical that the Warriors maintain the high level they reached in the second half against the Sea Eagles. With the Sharks, Panthers, Broncos and Storm waiting on the horizon, the difference between a Top 4 spot and a red-hot crack at the premiership or sneaking into the 8 and dipping out in the first week could come down to whether the men from Mt Smart can string a collection of wins together during the Origin period.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS