As someone who sees what is happening with the Warriors and has bought into the Stephen Kearney regime, even I'm a bit perplexed by the team selected to face Manly Sea Eagles this week. The season is done and dusted for the Warriors, all that's left is for the club to finish the season on the front-foot and showcase something in front of fans at Mt Smart stadium.
That can be done two ways; select the best team and go all-in on winning entertaining but low key gritty games of footy (that's what the fans want right?) or give fans a cheeky teaser of what 2018 and beyond might look like.
Circumstance has me leaning towards the latter and with Shaun Johnson making his return from injury, I view this as the perfect opportunity to give Johnson and Ata Hingano game time together. This is a combination that will take the Warriors forward and this combination not only ticks the on-field boxes in terms of what they offer as players, they are also halves who have come through the Warriors system. This is more a sign of rugby league's growth in Aotearoa as the Warriors don't need to bring in halves from Australia, the depth of #KiwiNRL means that Aotearoa produces more NRL halves than ever.
Instead, Kieran Foran will start alongside Johnson. The only upside here is perhaps for the Kiwis as Foran and Johnson get some reps ahead of the World Cup, other than that there is very limited upside in playing Foran. The most important player at the Warriors under 25yrs other than the skipper, is Hingano and I'd even go as far as saying that he's a more complete half than Johnson, perhaps saying he's 'different' is more accurate though.
When I think of Johnson, I think of all the halves partners he's had throughout his career and what success that has resulted in. Not a whole lot right? Johnson hasn't had the luxury of building a combination with a halves partner and here we have a halves combo that can become a staple of the Warriors for the next few years; get 'em playing together!
I can't go all-in on how frustrating this is because the chances of Foran being a late withdrawl are incredibly high. Or Hingano can slip off the bench and replace Foran mid-game, which would be super cool and as Hingano probably won't be playing hooker next year, there's no real point in giving him hooker-minutes at this stage of the season.
Foran's battled shoulder, hamstring and back issues in the past 18 months and for him personally, there's little to gain in putting his body on the line at this stage of the season. Foran will want to repay the Warriors though and he's nek-level tough, so he's more than capable, just don't sleep on Hingano stepping into a starting halves spot in a last-minute move from Kearney.
That's just more sensible, with next year in mind. The Warriors don't need to build the Foran/Johnson combo, they need to build the Hingano/Johnson combo and there's also the low key ripple of giving Hingano and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in-game reps of their combo
Manly themselves have a halves combination that Hingano and Johnson can look to emulate. Daly Cherry-Evans predominantly plays on the right but drifts freely thanks to the solid work of Blake Green; when the ball goes to the left, it's all Green (Hingano) and Green sparks moves to the right pushing Cherry-Evans out a pass wider.
That's how Foran and Johnson play, yet Green is more of a job-doer than Foran, he just executes with class. I see Hingano playing that role, allowing Johnson to play with more freedom than he has done previously as he's also got to steer the ship.
Enjoy the game for what it is, I suggest you keep 2018 at the front of your mind though and watch for minor details about certain players that could help or hinder their chances at selection next season as Kearney builds his team. Remember that there's no James Gavet and he was Warriors MVP until he got injured, which flows into the fact three of the eight forwards selected (Ben Matulino, Ryan Hoffman, Charlie Gubb) either won't be or are unlikely to be at Mt Smart next season.
Just on the ownership stuff and changes in the front offices of Mt Smart...
Everything about the Warriors is changing and we have been in an incredible period of change since 2017 started - from the coach to players to the structure of the club to the infamous culture. It's all changing folks and given the starting point (end of 2016) and all the whinging and moaning about the Warriors, how can you not be excited by change?
And trust me on this; these ain't little changes here and there. All of this is falls under ripping things down and starting over, so it might be weird and you might not like it, but what do we as fans and the club have to lose?
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