In comparing last year's NRLW campaign to this year's, Aotearoa Warriors doubled their number of wins and missed out on a Grand Final via points differential. That suggests general improvement and given the circumstances with Honey Hireme throughout this tournament, then the adversity coming in heavy during last week; a strong win over Brisbane Broncos and finishing 3rd is a handy effort.
The Warriors defeated Brisbane Broncos 10-8 to give themselves a chance of sliding into the GF, however St George Illawara Dragons were too good for Sydney Roosters and their win took then into the last game. Playing with their coach and star player in mind, the Warriors displayed a certain ruggedness and competitive edge against the Broncos to ensure victory, again pointing to development over the past year.
This win over Broncos also came with Georgia Hale moving from middle forward to the halves where she partnered Charntay Poko. Compared to Timaima Ravisa, having an experienced operator like Hale in the halves made a massive difference and Hale had more touches/passes in that last game than Ravisa had through the first two games. Hale had 37 touches and 29 passes, while Ravisa combined for 10 touches and 5 passes in the first two games and that obviously had an impact on how the Warriors played their footy.
Although Poko has played a Test for Aotearoa this year, the Warriors went into NRLW with not only a fresh halves combination but two players tasting their first dose of NRLW footy. The decision was made to play Hale in the middle, where her defensive skill was better utilised and her skills as a half enabled Hale to still be a key figure in shifting the footy as she had 24 passes in game one, then 16 passes in game two. Combined that with 100 percent tackling efficiency with 40 tackles made in game one and 97.5 percent with 39 tackles as a middle forward and it's clear why the move was made.
The Warriors only lost one of three games, so there is no need to be overly critical and I need to double-down on the improvements made from last year to this year. The decision to roll with Ravisa and Poko does feel like it held the Warriors back though in losing to the Dragons, with Ravisa barely a factor on the field and Poko required to try and do everything. Ravisa and Poko have both been around high level rugby union/league for a few years now, NRLW is slightly different though as patterns are identified by opposition and perhaps the better move was to stick with Hale as a half throughout the tournament.
Krystal Rota was a key figure for the Warriors, especially in scooting out of dummy half as she racked up 24 dummy half runs across the three games (10, 5, 9). Rota averaged 7m/run and she played all but 3 minutes across all three games, finishing with a tackle efficiency over 80 in every game as a leading tackler in the middle. This re-affirms Rota's standing as one of the best, if not the best dummy half in the women's game and having the class of Rota and fullback Apii Nicholls in spine positions gave and will give the Warriors greater foundations moving forward; especially if Hale is moved into a play-making role.
Despite being initially named outside the top-17 for all three games, my best Warriors forward is Onjeurlina Leiataua. I'm not sure why Leiataua was never named in the top-17 and was always some type of late call up, yet Leiataua's dynamic running as an edge forward gave the Warriors a point of difference and a weapon to whom they could shift the footy to.
Leiataua had 9 runs for 99m, then 8 runs for 88m and finished with 14 runs for 106m. That's 31 total runs for 293m, averaging 9.45m/run and when combined with Annetta Nu'uausala at her best as she was vs Broncos, then the Warriors appeared to have a rather threatening forward pack. After playing 38mins, then 35mins, Nu'uausala finished with 45mins vs Broncos and 15 runs for 132m, with 9 tackle busts and an offload. For context around Leiataua's efforts; Nu'uausala had 33 total runs for 275m, averaging 8.33m/run. That means Nu'uausala had a couple more runs, but ran for less metres and thus highlighting how efficient Leiataua was with her work.
This saw Nu'uausala earn Team of The Week selection for round three, along with Apii Nicholls, Atawhai Tupaea, Georgia Hale, Krystal Rota and Amber Kani. Leiataua and Billy-Jean Ale joined Hale in the round two TOTW, while round one had Jules Newman, Charntay Poko, Rota and Hale. Hale earned TOTW selection in all three rounds, Rota was next best with TOTW seletion in rounds one and three.
Here is a breakdown of the number of games played by Warriors players...
Apii Nicholls (fullback), Hilda Mariu (wing), Atawhai Tupaea (centre), Jules Newman (centre), Charntay Poko (halves), Annetta Nu'uausala (middle), Krystal Rota (hooker), Georgia Hale (middle/halves), Kanyon Paul (bench), Kathleen Wharton (edge/bench), Onjeurlina Leiataua (edge/bench), Crystal Tamarua (edge), Billy-Jean Ale (middle/bench)
Madison Bartlett (wing), Timaima Ravisa (halves), Aishaleigh Smalley (middle), Tanika-Jazz Noble (bench).
Roela Radiniyavuni (wing), Tyler Reid (middle), Tasia Seumanufagai (middle), Amber Kani (middle).
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Peace and love 27.