In losing to South Sydney Rabbitohs a week prior, Aotearoa Warriors showed some hearty energy and at the very least endeavoured to overcome adversity. A week later, in losing to North Queensland Cowboys, the Warriors created their own adversity in what has to be considered their worst performance of the season thus far. This gives us a weird paradigm where the best performance was a loss and the worst performance so far, isn't that shocker vs Manly Sea Eagles.
Talk about tough to watch. Churning out a completion rate of 68 percent in front of your faithful Mt Smart homies, that's exactly what leads everyone - from the loyals to the casuals - to question their sanity. All the signs of the Warriors we have come to despise were evident on Saturday night and even me, as Lightbringer himself, felt the blood come to a boil in my loins.
There are numerous factors that came together for such a crappy feeling after the game. At the top of the list is that the Cowboys weren't very good and aren't very good. 5 line breaks to 1, 37 tackle busts to 20 tell the story of a Warriors team that could do as they pleased when settling into their systems and had the Warriors held the footy, or grabbed some repeat sets, they would have won fairly easily given that the Cowboys couldn't stop the Warriors.
Yet the Warriors kept coughing up opportunities. Without Blake Green, a leader of the group and someone who sets the tone, Adam Blair came up with 2 errors and 2 penalties conceded. This is the bloke who is meant to offer the guiding hand and while I can absorb his lack of impact in running the footy, that's only possible if Blair is offering elsewhere. Right now, Blair's negatives far out-weight the positives and one of the leaders is offering detrimental performances.
Also, without Green, one would assume that the Warriors would require as much play-making, or class on the field as possible. Coach Stephen Kearney pulled Issac Luke off after 27 minutes and in that stint, Luke had numerous kicks out of dummy half to showcase his value as an extra play-maker; Peta Hiku had no kicks for the whole game. The issue here is that Luke then only came back for 6mins late in the game when the damage was already done.
Kearney would have been wise to give Luke as much game time as possible in this game, because without Green, Luke is a hugely influential figure. If Luke is working through injuries etc, ease up on his minutes when Green returns, but to sit idle while the Warriors clearly lacked assistance for Chanel Harris-Tavita, was one of Kearney's oddities.
What's the point of Agnatius Paasi coming back on for 6mins, or Lachlan Burr coming back on for 9mins? This isn't anything new either as some second stints in the loss to Rabbitohs were Burr's 13mins, Jazz Tevaga's 12mins and Bunty Afoa's 9mins. Isaiah Papali'i's second stint vs Gold Coast Titans was 5mins and Ligi Sao got 7mins total in that win.
Vs Manly? Leeson Ah Mau came back on for 9mins. Vs Wests Tigers? Sam Lisone's second stint was 5mins. This stuff is so weird and it feels like Kearney is being too cute here, let alone the fact that guys like Sao, Chris Satae and Leivaha Pulu are barely getting any opportunities. In this game, keeping Luke off the field for much of the second half played a huge role in the Warriors losing the game. For the season thus far, this is a weird trend of Kearney's coaching that is straight up weird.
Also weird is having Peta Hiku come in as a last minute replacement for Green. If everyone knows that Green is a maybe selection, get an actual half involved. I understand the situation last week, where the Warriors were in Australia and Green suffered the injury in warm ups, so the best option in that scenario is Hiku to the halves. There was a week of knowing that Green's a maybe and that resulted in Hiku having no kicks, zero.
Winning a game of footy in the NRL is going to be very difficult if one half is not kicking at all and Kearney created that situation, knowing that Green was a maybe. Hiku also missed 5 tackles vs Rabbitohs, then 4 vs Cowboys, the most of any Warriors player in either game and that's again - detrimental to the Warriors.
But I don't blame Hiku. For this game vs Cowboys, Hiku was selected to do this job with other options available. That's Kearney and this weirdness from Kearney is quickly stacking up. We did get Bully, Tevaga and Roache in the same team, just in the weird way of Tevaga legit playing minutes as the lone dummy half on the field. This is super duper weird; with Luke and Roache both in the 17, Tevaga played minutes at dummy half.
Luke and Roache played a combined 56mins, meaning that Tevaga was the dummy half for roughly 24mins. Let that sink in. We had a half who wasn't kicking and a middle forward playing dummy half, while two dummy halves are in the team.
The bigger picture is a wee bit more positive as these two performances have come without Green. Kearney clearly isn't overly keen on ruffling feathers, shaking things up and as much as it's needed right now, I'm doubtful anything notable will happen for Anzac Day vs Melbourne Storm. All we can hope is that these results lead to learning, whether that includes Kearney learning about his own weirdness ... I dunno.
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Peace and love 27.