In March of every year, 16 teams set out on an epic journey to reach the pinnacle of their sport. Step after step, week after week, they climb towards the summit, driven by a singular goal. As they trek along this well-trodden path, they imagine what it might be like to stand on the planet’s greatest podium and look out at the world. They dream of that view. Some think of nothing else until their journey is complete. At times along the way, when they catch a glimpse of what surrounds them and what they have already achieved, they smile. They appreciate what an opportunity they have been given to etch their names into history.
As time moves on and the year marches from month to month, the groups begin to spread out. Some start strong and fade away as the journey takes its toll. Others plan meticulously to combat each and every obstacle likely to come their way, aiming to peak when the time is right. They try to resist looking too far into the distance, focusing instead on the key checkpoints along the way.
In 2018, the expedition led by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck — ‘Warrior Nation’ — find themselves perhaps no more than one week from base camp. They are close enough now that they can see the colourful flags waving in the distance, close enough to breathe the fresh mountain air into their lungs. Up ahead they see a place that’s perfect for quiet reflection; somewhere to sit, surrounded by a silence that only altitude can provide, and think about where they have come from and what they have sacrificed to get there.
The view from base camp is spectacular, whether you are seeing it for the first time or the tenth time. Surrounded by majestic peaks and other adventurers, it becomes clear that dreams can become a reality, and that the ultimate prize is only four weeks away. For the brave members of Warrior Nation, it has been many years since they have seen it with their own eyes. In fact, there are those in Roger’s party who have never seen the horizon from such a height before. In previous seasons the mountain air has proved overwhelming. This time, they hope all their hard work will be worthwhile.
In the end, only 8 parties will make it to base camp. As Warrior Nation faces up to their next challenge, behind them are others trying to find the courage and the will to take their place should they slip. Roger and his men may be tired — no doubt there are some in the party who feel the aches and pains of the climb — but the chasing pack ensures that now is not the time to rest. They’ve come so far, and they’re almost there. One final shove and the first and most gruelling part of this epic journey will be a successful one, and a new journey — with an even greater reward — will begin.
SET OF SIX
1) So close to the finals. I’d hate to jinx it, but finals football feels close enough to reach out and touch. And with the up-and-down nature of the NRL, who knows how far up the ladder this Warriors side could climb if they finish the season with three more wins.
2) Captain Fantastic does it again. It’s becoming harder and harder to come up with adequate superlatives to describe Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s performances. After one of the greatest halves in a Warriors’ jumper a week ago against the Dragons, he backed it up by running 338 metres with 11 tackle breaks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone sidestep at such speed — he must be a nightmare to tackle. One second he’s in front of you, the next you are clutching at thin air.
3) Defence is the best form of attack. After three consecutive scoreless second-halves, the first 10 minutes after oranges was always going to take on extra importance against the Knights. This time, the Warriors played with the kind of defensive intensity that has given us hope that they could achieve something special this season. The line speed was excellent and, as a result, it took the Knights 8½ minutes of the second half to pass halfway. The territorial advantage allowed the Warriors to control the game and grind out a very comfortable victory.
4) Sign him up. There wasn’t much fanfare made of Issac Luke’s 250th appearance, but his importance to the squad becomes more and more obvious with each passing week. There’s nothing further to be said now, other than ‘Sign him up!’
5) Gavet on the improve. After missing time due to injury, it’s taken James Gavet a while to work his way into form in 2018, but he looks like he’s starting to get his mojo back. Especially against the Knights, he threw himself into contact, ran with the intensity we came to know and love in 2017 and looked eager to get the ball in his hands. If he can continue that kind of form, he, along with Agnatius Paasi and Bunty Afoa, can provide an alternative source of metres if teams look to shut down the Warriors’ impressive back three.
6) Respect. The culture change has generated plenty of publicity this season, but the club warrants every ounce of praise they’re receiving for the respect they are showing to the game. Whether it’s recognising the contribution of an Immortal like Johnathan Thurston, a stalwart like Chris Heighington or a referee like Matt Cecchin, or putting the women’s game at the forefront of people’s minds, they are setting high standards both on and off the field.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS