Aotearoa Warriors will face Manly Sea Eagles in Christchurch on Saturday evening as our nifty journey to suss out the Warriors in these opening rounds takes in interesting turn. The Warriors have shown us their best and worst in the opening two rounds, which I can't help but feel like is a low key positive given that everyone - from players to fans - is quickly learning what is required to perform at a solid level over a season.
The loss to Wests Tigers didn't actually feel like the worst from the Warriors, instead it felt like the worst-case for a game of footy. Niggly things went against the Warriors and the Warriors couldn't respond to counter those crappy vibes from the footy gods, which wasn't ideal as it would have been great to see the Warriors grind with the Tigers to give them a chance late in the game. Instead, the Warriors crumbled with the adversity.
Now the Warriors face Manly, who have lost their opening two games (Tigers are 2-0). Manly have been without Tom Trbojevic who returns at fullback to add some firepower to the Sea Eagles and this puts some context around their 0-2 start, although the Sea Eagles don't feel like a team who are going to stifle the Warriors. We've see two extremes in the opening rounds for the Warriors and as Manly seem to be a team that is better than the Bulldogs, but worse than the Tigers, this is a nice opportunity for the Warriors to double down on their style of footy.
Build upon the foundations laid vs Bulldogs.
Sam Lisone has been suspended and this adds an enticing wrinkle to the game for the Warriors as the forward pack continues to be tinkered. Ligi Sao was named in the extended squad on Tuesday and he appears to be the likeliest contender to come on to the bench, however their could be some other antics via coach Stephen Kearney. Sao has played one reserve grade game, with 14runs/142m, 51 post-contact-metres and 3 offloads in 80 minutes.
We know Sao loves an offload and would add to the Warriors offloading funk if selected, however there is little correlation between offloads and wins for the Warriors. Offloading is an aspect of how the Warriors play their footy, yet the importance of their offloads comes in conjunction with having good territory, going set for set with the opposition and putting them under greater fatigue. If the Warriors are building pressure and moving defences around, then offloads expose weakness in that defence; offloading with far less possession than the opponent is kinda useless.
A strength of the Warriors play is the kicking game and defensive intensity in winning the early tackles. Again, this is only evident when you actually get to the kick via a decent completion rate. What's notable here is that Manly are 15th in kick-return-metres (Warriors are 6th) and this is likely to be a target for the Warriors as they force the Sea Eagles to battle out of their own 20m zone.
Trbojevic's return helps this immensely; Blake Green, Adam Keighran and Issac Luke's kicking will need to be slick to limit the influence of Trbojevic. Find either Jorge Taufua or Reuben Garrick, maybe a few early kicks into corners and then the Warriors will be aggressive in driving the outside backs backwards in the early tackles.
Last week we saw the Tigers churn out a low kicks in behind Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a; taking the aerial contest away, turning the wingers around and nullifying the Warriors jamming defence out on the edges. Great tactics from the Tigers and a good ploy when you have Benji Marshall, Luke Brooks and Robbie Farah who are all ballers with their boots.
A ploy made easier by having a three-headed kicking monster, which Manly do not have. Daly Cherry-Evans will take on the bulk of the kicking responsibilities, averaging 12 kicks to Kane Elgey's 4 and it's not necessarily about loading up on Cherry-Evans to put him under pressure; the outside backs can be better prepared for where the kicks are coming from.
The same balance applies to the Warriors though as Green averages 13 kicks and Keighran 4. This limits the potential of the Warriors and the fortunes of the Warriors are encapsulated in Keighran who everyone celebrated after the first game, then Keighran found out about NRL footy in game two. The most important Warrior for this game may be Keighran and how he bounces on from the whirlwind first two weeks of his career.
I'll be keeping a close eye on the rotation of the forwards as well. Nothing has been settled to start the season with changes in the team, along with changes in minutes and usage. This continues in round three with changes required via Lisone's absence and we are still a long way to sussing out the best Warriors forward pack and the balance of game time.
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Peace and love 27.