Much of my Warriors optimism is based around the idea that Stephen Kearney has just completed his first season in charge of the Warriors. That doesn't just mean we can look forward to playing style development or improvement in variety of skills, it also means that Kearney has now reached a point where he can take significant steps in building his own rosters.
We've seen bits and pieces of this throughout the season as Kearney opted not to keep guys like Ben Matulino, Manu Vatuvei and Ryan Hoffman around - guys who have formed the foundation of the Warriors in recent years and obviously that's not a good thing. Kearney is sweeping out the dust, slowly but surely and anyone who expected that to happen in the first six months of his Warriors coaching gig, is crazy.
Just look at Kearney's first major signing (Kieran Foran who?) in Tohu Harris, who was signed for 2018 and beyond, way back in January this year. Considering that Kearney made an appearance in Melbourne for Cameron Smith's milestone game alongside Greg Inglis and Jonathan Thurston, Kearney's got a bit of respect for the Melbourne system (he helped build it) and Harris smells like a signing that Kearney had headlining his notepad. That's because Harris is everything Kearney wants the Warriors to be and if we were here for the short-term joy of a honeymoon 2017 season, we wouldn't have sat through all of 2017 knowing that Harris was heading back to Aotearoa for 2018.
Kearney, Jim Doyle and the Warriors are taking steps to revamp Mt Smart. As I've alluded to many times before, there's absolutely no short-term fix to revamping a losing culture so deeply ingrained at the Warriors. With that in mind, each step is a pleasure, especially when Kearney and Doyle are combining to snatch Alex Corvo away from the Broncos, bring in Gerard Beale and almost definitely bring Peta Hiku back home. It even seems likely that Adam Blair is on his way to Mt Smart as a bit of momentum swung behind this move, although nothing's for certain just yet.
Bringing this Corvo chap over from the Broncos is an example of how anti-short-term all of this is; get that idea of snapping your faangers and the Warriors being good out of your noggin'. Kearney had to see and feel what the Warriors training methods were like, he can't form opinions based on noise about poor attitudes or whatever, Kearney had to be there in the trenches and suss out where the Warriors were at and what might work in the future to help improve the squad's training methods.
Without Kearney, Corvo never gets signed. Kearney and Corvo have worked together under the two best coaches ever and their combination has coincided with success at Melbourne and Brisbane. Why didn't Kearney just bring Corvo with him when Kearney left Brisbane? Corvo may have been under contract with Brisbane and now that he's up for grabs, he may be eager for a new challenge. Put yourself in Corvo's shoes; you get to work with your ol' mate Kearney and if you can have a positive impact on the Warriors, then you're coaching track-record is complete having had an impact at Melbourne and Brisbane before doing the otherwise impossible in fixing the Warriors' training issues.
Corvo is already a gun coach/trainer and if he can have an influence at the Warriors, he'll set himself up for life in having all sorts of possibilities available to him.
We've also seen the Warriors officially announce the signing of Gerard Beale, while Peta Hiku has been granted a release from Warrington. I was intrigued about how creative the Warriors might get in signing players who need an opportunity without the hefty price-tag and in Beale and Hiku, they having done a fine job.
There may be speculation that Beale will enjoy a pay-rise, although this is more a matter of convenience for everyone involved. Cronulla don't need Beale as they have signed Josh Dugan (Dragons) and Aaron Gray (Rabbitohs), who will replace Beale and Jack Bird, plus the Sharks have Jesse Ramien - a centre who was named in the NYC Team of the Year. They also have Sione Katoa who was one of three #KiwiNRL reps in the NYC Team of the Year waiting for a sniff at wing and Katoa will compete with Edrick Lee for the 'next up' wing spot.
Cronulla have also re-signed Andrew Fifita, Paul Gallen, Wade Graham, Valentine Holmes, Matt Prior, Chad Townsend and Sosaia Feki. None of whom would have been cheap.
Even if the Warriors had to fork out some cash for Beale, it's all good. Beale covers multiple outside back positions and does so with experience, which when combined with the possible arrival of Hiku, completely re-vamps the Warriors outside back group. Both are capable of playing centre/wing, so the major positive here is that any minor outside back injury/suspension can be covered by Beale/Hiku. Instead of relying on a youngster, Beale/Hiku can simply do the job without much fuss.
They have both played fullback as well, while Hiku's played halves at various levels. I still view the Shaun Johnson/Ata Hingano combo as the best though and Mason Lino's building NRL experience, so Hiku will likely stick to covering centre/wing. The funk here comes in what Hiku did earlier this season for Penrith, which was why he was granted a release to head to England.
Penrith had no space for Hiku and fair play when you've got Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Josh Mansour as your wings, Dean Whare and Waqa Blake at centre with Tyrone Peachey flourishing at centre as well. Matt Moylan and Dylan Edwards have fullback covered, so there's literally no point in keeping Hiku there on his inflated salary (signed from Manly) and holding him back.
Those full outside back stocks did however give Hiku a chance to play as an edge forward this season and there was a period this season when Hiku rocked the No.14 jersey. Hiku is a footballer, someone who has a natural instinct that allows him to do a sound job in any position and then shining in his best position - which I view as centre.
Same goes for Beale as he has filled a hole in Cronulla's backline whenever asked to do so and the ramifications for someone like Solomone Kata are huge. Kata hasn't been all that good this season and it felt as though other teams had sussed him out after Kata enjoyed a consistently strong season prior. Not only is Kata suspect defensively, he's not a typical NRL centre in the sense that Kata steps back off his left foot to run the footy while Beale and Hiku are more skilled in setting up their outside man, or maniulating the defenders to create an extra number.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is also a loser in all of this, however I don't see it as overly negative given Nicoll-Klokstad is still super young - they're all super young! Nicoll-Klokstad, Kata, David Fusitua and Ken Maumalo are all youngsters and it showed, now you bring in two lads who have played plent of NRL footy and rep footy and enjoyed success, it's a vastly different backline.
There are so many variations to how the Warriors backline could look next season, this is the one that I like the most; Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, David Fusitua, Blake Ayshford, Peta Hiku, Gerard Beale.
The Fusitua/Ayshford combination is solid and the extent of how things are changing could be evident in the fact that Hiku and Beale could form a completely different Warriors left edge alongside Tohu Harris. From Hoffman/Kata/Maumalo to Harris/Hiku/Beale? That's extremely different, astronomically different, enough to help to wash aside the negativity of the 'next year' idea and embrace the excitement.
Much of the silly kiwi media's yarns about Hiku focus on how the Warriors failed to keep Hiku - spreading more negativity about the players the Warriors don't keep, even though they can't keep 'em all. Hiku was however allowed to leave Mt Smart prior to Jim Doyle's arrival as Warriors boss-dawg in 2014 and Doyle's arrival can be seen as a bit of a line in the sand. Even now with a slight re-shuffle in the Warriors front office, Doyle's still pulling the strings and Cameron George (new CEO) is effectively Doyle's puppet, in a positive way.
Doyle may or may not have had some input in keeping Hiku and Doyle probably wouldn't have been hands-on in the recruitment move to lure 1st XV players into the Junior Warriors (Konrad Hurrell and Ngani Laumape have gone on to bigger and better things), then pushing them into NRL footy swiftly. Those sorts of moves came from the previous administration and there's a laundry list of such moves, questionable moves (Sam Tomkins).
I don't care for Doyle's specific role in sparking change, all I know is that Doyle lured Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke to the Warriors. Then Doyle signed Kearney on as coach and now we are seeing the Doyle's influence in recruitment moves that Kearney is making. We've got two versatile, experienced, natural footballers on their way and a bloke who has whipped Melbourne and Brisbane into shape. Now - if you haven't already - is probably a good time to push memories of the Warriors to the back of your mind and just roll with the tide of change.
Judging the Warriors on how other people ran the joint is silly. This is a new era, an era that brings with it genuine excitement and not fake, material excitement that was built up by how other people ran the joint.
Peace and love 27.
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