After dwelling in that yucky feeling as Cody Walker soared to the Aotearoa Warriors try line, giving South Sydney Rabbitohs a 28-24 win, a beautiful sense of calm swept through my loins. Had that been a game late in the season, or any other time in which the Warriors desperately needed the 2 points, that loss would have led to a multi-day hangover full of carbs and buckies.
Had Blake Green been playing and all of that happened? Damn...
The reality however, is that this was the most impressive performance of the season from the Warriors. I'm not talking about 'most impressive performance' in terms of skillful execution, because the Warriors only really lost that game via their inability to control the second half. After Sam Lisone's try in the 50th minute, the Warriors kinda imploded and at one stage they buggered three sets in a row; at one stage in the second half their completion rate was 62 percent.
That is horrible. I rarely live in the black or white, because life is all about the grey and while there are a few other factors at play here, the Rabbitohs were invited into winning the game by the Warriors in the second half. Fairly simple and there is a clear correlation between the lack of steady control, sensible footy, class from the Warriors and the Rabbitohs storming back to win the game.
None of which is surprising, given that the one bloke who offers all of that was injured moments before the game. Instead of Chanel Harris-Tavita playing alongside the conductor in Green, Harris-Tavita had to be the conductor and creator. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was brilliant, however his skillset isn't in the category of controlling a game and Issac Luke isn't at the stage of the season where he can dominate a game for 80 minutes; Luke played 32mins and we're building into his best footy.
Everything fell on the shoulders of Harris-Tavita, in his second game. That is not an overstatement and other than a lack of control when it mattered most, Harris-Tavita was brilliant. There is immense clarity in reflecting on Harris-Tavita's performance because his mistakes, his areas of weakness in this game were typical of a a young half, let along a bloke in his position leading an NRL team.
The upside, the potential of Harris-Tavita was also on display though and in conjunction with Tuivasa-Sheck's wizardry, along with decent performances from everyone else, Harris-Tavita was a large reason why the Warriors scored 24 points. Harris-Tavita didn't miss a tackle either and restricted Sam Burgess to just 106m from 15 runs (7.06m/run); Harris-Tavita had support from Tohu Harris but his efforts against Burgess align with the upside shown in his attack.
Burgess changed the game with his intensity and physicality in the second half, such as a player of his quality can do. Burgess didn't change the game by exposing a young half in his second game and Harris-Tavita was part of a right edge that did a very solid job defensively; Cody Walker scored four tries primarily on the Warriors right (or that lucky try under the posts) and Ethan Lowe's try also came on the Warriors right.
As critical as we can be about Peta Hiku's defence on the right, this was influenced by the late shuffle of the backline. Hiku was playing left centre prior to this game and then found himself defending as a half, on the right ... against perhaps the most potent left edge in the NRL. In the vacuum of losing this game, this was a major factor along with the lack on control with the footy, but context is crucial here and while it's easy to highlight Hiku's flaws, the better option is to absorb the context and apply some common sense.
So, how was that the most impressive performance of the season thus far? The attitude and intensity was present, as were the key aspects of Warriors footy that are required to go deep into the Finals. Against an upper echelon team, without one of the two most important players (Green and Tuivasa-Sheck), the Warriors showed up with the energy, desire and other 'attitude' things that we want to see most games. In that context, the Warriors scored 24 points against a team who now averages 18.2 points conceded per game; which would have been lower prior to this game.
The Warriors blueprint was on display and while they conceded 28 points, it could have been a lot more if their scramble defence wasn't at a high level. That may sound weird, but if you give the Rabbitohs as many chances as the Warriors did, the Bunnies will score 28 points easily. In general, the Warriors covered each other's insides shoulders well and also showcased nice reads in jamming on the Rabbitohs play-makers.
With the footy, it's all about speed and footwork. The Warriors were effective against the Rabbitohs via their mobility and we also saw the funky angles run by the Warriors, either out to the edges or back across the ruck. Even without Green, the Warriors generated attacking opportunities through their system of getting between defenders (angles, footwork, speed) and boosting the tempo, or offloading.
I said that this was a 'gauge game' in my preview and with that in mind, my judgement on the Warriors is that they are still a top-8 team that can grow into a threat. The Warriors were able to roll out their style of footy, their schemes and systems against an upper echelon team without Green. That's encouraging, it's also a major sign of the development required throughout the season.
A feeling lingers in my gut, that this was a super important effort from the Warriors. Partly because of how the team stepped up to the occasion of playing against a good team without Green and partly because it puts the Warriors under the radar.
To the Warriors pleb, this was a typical Warriors loss in which they implode. To the enlightened, all the signs were present of a Warriors team who could be relevant come Finals footy.
Hit an ad to support the Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan.
And please support the Niche Cache was we try to build our base on Patreon. Support the underdogs as best you can, a little goes a long way.
Peace and love 27.