One reason for a splash of caution on my Aotearoa Warriors optimism has been the retirement of Simon Mannering and the hole he leaves in the top 17 at Mt Smart. As I ponder this hole, the positive vibes take control and I'm left enjoying some more solid recruitment that could allow for a low key intriguing shuffle of the forward pack.
While many sniff around the Warriors recruitment rumours and news for big names, the ploy to snap up solid job-doers with high ceilings has been hugely overlooked outside of the Niche Cache. This was headlined by Leeson Ah Mau and a few other kiwi prospects looking for an opportunity, yet the targeting of Aussies who fit this mould has been particularly interesting. In that Aussie bucket (Adam Keighran, Jackson Frei), Lachlan Burr is the lad who could play a major role in helping the Warriors absorb the loss of Mannering.
Now's a good time to remind youz that Keighran was named in the ISP Team of the Year and Burr was the Bulldogs reserve grade MVP.
Only a fool would interpret that as me saying that Burr is going to be Mannering. This is the craft that I'm enjoying about the new Warriors regime as we have here an example of the sum of the parts, coming together to absorb the loss of Mannering. All of this starts with the type of player Burr is and what he is going to offer the Warriors.
Burr is robust, capable of playing on an edge and through the middle. Most of his work for the Bulldogs last season appeared to be through the middle of the park and much of it was off the bench. You don't win the Terry Lamb medal if you're coming off the bench, playing up the guts and not have a hefty impact on games, so one would guess that Burr's relatively small frame (roughly 100kg, 188cm) is assisted by an eager attitude and mobility.
That translates to; he fucking rips in. Funnily enough, Burr was also one of the top offloaders in the Intrust Super Premiership with 30 offloads all season. That was good enough for Burr to finish 3rd in offloads behind James Bell (31) and Ligi Sao (32) - two Warriors.
Remember that Sao averaged the most offloads for the Warriors last season, chucking out 1.8 offloads/game in his 5 games. Aside from Sao's strange absence after playing in that early winning streak, it's no coincidence that he averaged the most offloads for the NRL Warriors and then went back into reserve grade to finish with the most offloads there.
Burr's style and skillset fits the Warriors mould perfectly. Even more so when considering what made guys like Agnatius Paasi and Bunty Afoa have such an impact last season as their speed and intent made up for a lack of size. Burr will likely offer that and offloads.
There's an angle for Burr to play on an edge, which will then free up Adam Blair to play through the middle or we could see 2017 Junior Kiwis middle forward Isaiah Papali'i graduate to the middle in the NRL. My belief though, is that Burr will operate off the bench and play through the middle.
Last season, Mannering was all over the show; some games he came off the bench, some he started on an edge, some starting in the middle. The situation is now as such that I don't know if we'll be graced with clarity, even with the departure of Mannering because Mannering's versatility went hand in hand with Blair's versatility. Blair finished the season playing on an edge, after spending the bulk of the season in the middle and when Tohu Harris was fit, there was an abundance of versatile middle/edge forwards who all deserved selection.
Again, I'm not suggesting that Burr is the saviour. This is more about the general situation not really changing given that with Ah Mau filling James Gavet's middle forward boots, Burr could very well take Mannering's spot in the top 17. With Blair, Papali'i and Harris definitely going to be in the top 17, who plays edge and who plays middle will is an enticing coaching predicament for Stephen Kearney.
Burr must demand selection in the top 17 and his main competition will come from Leivaha Pulu, Bunty Afoa, Tevita Satae, Sam Lisone and Sao. This group will be competing for three bench spots, assuming that either Jazz Tevaga or Nathaniel Roache will take one bench spot.
While Burr may not even be in the calculations of many Warriors fans, his signing bolsters the forward pack at a level below where Mannering sat. The key point here is that the balance of the Warriors forward pack doesn't change and many signs point to the mobility/skill of the forward pack remaining, perhaps even being enhanced this season.
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Peace and love 27.