Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: Can The Forwards Back It Up?

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So far in 2019, we have seen Aotearoa Warriors win games they should win against Canterbury Bulldogs and Gold Coast Titans, setting the tone for a Warriors team that should beat North Queensland Cowboys. The general vibe about the Warriors is that they can stack up 2 points from wins against weaker teams, yet struggling for consistency against better teams and thus leaving them hovering around the middle of the NRL ladder.

As long as that is the baseline and we see steady signs of potential and/or development, I'm not overly concerned. The most important thing though, is getting the 2 points when they are up for grabs against weaker teams and if that starts to vanish then we'll have issues, however there is little reason to ponder that outcome. A strong performance without Blake Green (and minimal involvement from Issac Luke via 32mins) in a loss to Rabbitohs is now followed by the Cowboys coming to Mt Smart and ideally, a splash of Warriors momentum.

Here's the Cowboys season so far...

2nd in points conceded.

12th in points scored.

15th in run metres.

13th in line breaks.

16th in tackle busts.

12th in forced drop outs.

All of which stinks of mediocrity and with the Cowboys missing Jason Taumalolo, there is little to suggest that the Cowboys will trouble the Warriors. Especially not after last week's loss for the Warriors and they will be eager to snatch 2 points with an impressive display, that will hopefully feature some hearty defence. The stats suggest that the Warriors won't be required to be super duper awesome in defence though as the Cowboys are 5th for tackles in the 20m zone, yet can't convert that 'good ball' into points given that they are 12th in points scored.

The Warriors aren't exactly defensive masters though, as they are 3rd behind the Cowboys in points conceded and actually miss more tackles than the Cowboys; Warriors are 4th and Cowboys 6th. The difference is in obviously in the respective attacking schemes of either team and I'm intrigued to see how this sub-par Warriors defence handles a sub-par Cowboys attack.

Up the guts, the Warriors were actually splendid and laid a strong platform against a robust Rabbitohs forward pack. Agnatius Paasi and Lachlan Burr both averaged 10m/run with more than 10runs and 100m, while Leeson Ah Mau and Tohu Harris weren't too far below that bar themselves. All the bench lads averaged over 10m/run as well, which made up for Adam Blair have a weird 3run/25m combo; point being that this was the most beastly effort from the Warriors forward pack of the season.

Much of which stems from mobility and footwork, which I believe aligns nicely with a Cowboys forward pack that resembles the Rabbitohs forward pack ... just really crap (based on 2019). Mathew Scott and Jordan McLean aren't exactly agile forwards, while John Asiata has nice hands but lacks oomph. Coen Hess? Big body, big talent and yet he is averaging 7.87m/run and like the rest of the Cowboys forwards, could be worked over via angles, footwork and speed in defence.

The Cowboys forward pack is there for the taking and after a strong performance against the Rabbitohs, backing it up will be a key objective for the Warriors forwards. Add some offloads into the mix and I can see the Warriors being hugely effective in moving the Cowboys forwards around, sprinkle power running on top and speed around the ruck to plow down field.

As much as I can highlight the difference between a Warriors win vs loss last week against the Rabbitohs being Blake Green's guidance (and maybe more mins from Bully), conceding 28 points while averaging 24.8 points conceded per game, is going to put huge pressure on the attack. That was the case last week and this isn't a sustainable method, meaning that defensive issues need to be ironed out.

The Cowboys present a nice challenge in the sense that the Warriors should be able to implement some control of the ruck, thus flowing into aggressive jamming D out on the edges. Regardless of the quality of what the Cowboys throw at the Warriors, the Warriors need to see and feel how their defence can be effective. Build a bit of confidence defensively and take a step forward.

What also intrigues me as of right now (Thursday morning), is what the final 17 will look like. Patrick Herbert, Nathaniel Roache and Leivaha Pulu have all been named on the extended bench, along with Gerard Beale. The inclusion of Roache is the most notable as Roache's speed/x-factor around the ruck adds a different dimension to the Warriors attack.

I'd love that to come in conjunction with Issac Luke and Jazz Tevaga, allowing Tevaga to do what he does best in the middle forward role. Carrying all three is a bit bonkers ... and I love it. That's for coach Stephen Kearney to suss out, that Roache is back in the group is lovely though and while Beale lives on the extended bench, the inclusion of Herbert is low key funky.

Herbert has also been named at fullback for the reserves and has been swapping between fullback and centre throughout the season, depending on what Hayze Perham's up to (fullback or halves). Whether Herbert is viewed as a better centre option than Beale is the key question here, allowing or Herbert to leap-frog Beale in the pecking order. I don't think anyone is convinced that Peta Hiku and Solomone Kata is the best centre pairing on offer, which opens the door to possible opportunities for Beale or Herbert.

Hiku (5), Kata (3) and Beale (4) had a combined 12 missed tackles last week. Beale had the lowest tackle efficiency percentage of all Warriors with more than 5 tackles last week as well and that's less than ideal for a bloke trying to crack the top-17.

I'm leaning towards a safe approach from Kearney, with Hiku and Kata starting and Beale outside the 17. Herbert though, could slide into contention if Kearney does what to get funky as a home game vs Cowboys would be the ideal chance to give Herbert his crack. My gut feel is that we aren't close to knowing the best combo of centres, let alone balance of the forward pack and hooking rotations, all which needs time to suss out.

There were a lot of weird numbers from last week's game, with a lack of involvement from Adam Blair's 80mins leading that group along with Luke's 32mins. Green was a late absentee and everything felt a bit messy, or crazy. Hopefully at Mt Smart vs Cowboys, we see a more true reflection of what this Warriors team is about and while there may end up being some funky selections, a more settled performance.

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Peace and love 27.