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Aotearoa Warriors were too good for Canterbury Bulldogs, whipping Mt Smart into a frenzy with a 40-6 win. All the lovely signs were there in terms of everything we have come to appreciate from the Warriors since Stephen Kearney arrived as coach, which leaves me with a vibe of that win being the foundation from which 2019 will be built upon.
As positive and optimistic as I am about the Warriors, there was little in this game that suggested a drastic rise in expectations. The Bulldogs clearly lacked the play-making class to break down a stingey Warriors defence and without the footy, the Bulldogs weren't in the same mixer as the Warriors. This was a case of showing up in round one, putting on a show for Aotearoa in rough circumstances and establishing how the 2019 Warriors go about their business.
Much of which was at the forefront of the 2018 Warriors campaign and it's not so much a case of the Warriors adding to their work, more a case of improving on what they showed were staples of their play. This involves strong work from the back-three with the footy, offloads, quirky running around the middle of the field in terms of Jazz Tevaga's jinks and big boppers angling across field or putting footwork, jamming defence out on the edges,dominating early tackles after a long kick and plenty of wrestle. After a summer of training on all of those nuances of their game, the Warriors have already displayed fundamentals to what their success will stem from.
The balance of play between Blake Green and Adam Keighran was heavily skewed towards Green. Understandable given Green's strength is organisation and prototypical halfback play, allowing for Keighran to sit back and pick his moments. A protypical halfback isn't just someone who directs traffic, they need a slick kicking game and Green had the ball on string starting with an out-swinging grubber to get a repeat set and then these two chips;
For the second chippy, look where Keighran is...
You'll see below that Keighran operated on the left edge, with Green swinging either side of the ruck and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck out on the right. But for Green's second chip, Keighran is where first-receiver should be, just further back and completely out of the play, making way for Green. I highlight this because it's a clear example of Keighran letting Green lead the way and the clarity around this is delightful.
For Keighran's try, he got the footy from Green two passes off the ruck. Later on in the game, leading into Peta Hiku's try, Keigrhan again got the footy on the left from Green...
Compare that to the right, where Green gives the footy to Tuivasa-Sheck. The first example has Green running a long backline move, similar to what happened with Keighran and giving the footy to Tuivasa-Sheck out on the right edge...
Then we also have Tuivasa-Sheck's try in which he was the only play-maker on the right after Green slid from the right, to the left and then passed back to the right for Tuivasa-Sheck. Tuivasa-Sheck isn’t even looking at Green, he’s scouring the defensive line...
This is notable for a few reasons, led by reinforcing the strong presence of Tuivasa-Sheck on the right edge in good ball. It is also a sign of the funky play-design of the Warriors and the combination of razzle dazzle footy via offloads and off-the-cuff passing, along with plays being executed as they were designed at training is what makes the Warriors a low key attacking nightmare.
The Bulldogs had more offloads than the Warriors (14-12), however their is structure to the Warriors offloads. Weird, but when the Warriors offload, they know what to do from that point and the structure is in their ability to react with instincts - instincts established at training. Warriors offloads either lead to a quick shift to the edges, or spark a frenzy around the ruck, either way the offload is the ignition and then the players know how to operate from there.
Tohu Harris had a low key 16runs/164m with 61 post-contact-metres.
We know what the outside backs do and this starts with supreme confidence in catching kicks. Then they gobble the metres and there is a feeling I get when watching Tuivasa-Sheck return the footy from a kick, knowing that he will make metres or squeeze between defenders to ensure a quick play the ball. Consider this a standard Roger stat line:
22runs/208m, 1 line break, 1 line break assist, 1 try assist, 1 try.
Both centres had a kick each and that's a nice early sign of easing the pressure on the halves, especially with Issac Luke not playing. Peta Hiku and Solomone Kata had great games considering where they came from in 2018 and if they can get a cheeky kick in here and there out on the edges, it's just another tool to use. Keighran's left boot is clearly an asset as well, not only because of the left/right aspect but he can give it a hefty whack.
For those un-educated in the weird running work for Issac Luke, then guys like Tevaga, Tevaga’s wiggling around the ruck led to the Nathaniel Roache try. Peep the screen shot, then keep that in mind when watching the video as Tevaga doesn’t just scoot out of dummy half, he literally wiggles and then shifts the footy…
I could go on and on about how good everyone else was, you could all see that though. Roache proved another low key example of how proficient the Warriors summer was, coming out of nowhere to put in an impressive shift at hooker. The big boppers all flexed in their own way and this game was all about the collective efforts rather than highlighting Sam Lisone's encouraging effort, or Lachlan Burr showing his value; all the forwards were good.
Burr had the most passes with 4, followed by Lisone's 3. Tevaga spent minutes at dummy half so it's hard to highlight his passing, however Burr and Lisone were the main guys who did some ball-playing amongst their running.
For someone like me who believes the Warriors are operating at a high level, perhaps a wee bit higher than a lot of other teams, this win wasn't all that surprising. It's hard to elaborate on that though because we still need fog to clear, more rounds and a greater sample size to suss out. The tempo and control of the Warriors is what encourages me, although last season we saw how difficult it was to sustain that over a season.
The lows were low last season, because of the effort required in the highs. This is further reason not to be dramatic with results because of how everything flattens out over the course of a season. As long as most games at Mt Smart resemble what happened in round one, where the Bulldogs weren't just defeated but were taken into deep taniwha waters, we'll be in for a splendid season.
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Peace and love 27.