Aotearoa Warriors are back at home to face Gold Coast Titans and coach Stephen Kearney has made a few tweaks to the team as he tries to find the best 17. One change is forced with Karl Lawton coming in for Issac Luke with Luke not quite resembling his most potent self and while he's officially out with a hamstring issues, this is probably more of a general rest and sussing out for Bully.
The major change appears to be in the halves with Chanel Harris-Tavita coming in for Adam Keighran. While this may feel like the most notable move from Kearney, Lawton's selection and then minor changes like Leeson Ah Mau starting, Bunty Afoa coming off the bench, Isaiah Papali'i settling back to an edge role with Adam Blair at lock and Ligi Sao on the bench, feel a whole lot more important.
Talking about the shuffling around of the forward pack is niggly because it could all change come game time, as we saw last week with Lachlan Burr dropping to the bench and Blair starting in the middle. Papali'i came into the starting team and while I suspect the forward pack named right now will be the same come game time, Kearney has a habit of the last minute switch-a-roo.
Ah Mau starting takes him away from the bench role he had done so well for St George Dragons, which may not be ideal. However, having the best middlle forward starting should be viewed as a positive - Ah Mau's definitely the best middle forward thus far. Compare Ah Mau's work vs Manly Sea Eagles to the other middle forwards who have the same role (grunt work) and we get a clearer picture of who should be doing what...
Leeson Ah Mau: 41mins, 17runs/140m, 42 post-contact-metres.
Agnatius Paasi: 40mins, 8runs/70m, 24pcm.
Bunty Afoa: 39mins, 7runs/79m, 32pcm.
Lachlan Burr: 37mins, 14runs/118m, 41pcm.
I reckon Ah Mau should be getting closer to 50 minutes, while Paasi and Afoa take on more of a short-stint impact role. With Afoa coming off the bench, he can condense his hard running into less minutes and the different shapes/styles of Jazz Tevaga, Afoa, Burr and Sao should give the Warriors a funky boost off the bench. Ah Mau is emerging as the dependable middle forward of this group (Adam Blair and Tevaga have different roles) and hopefully with greater responsibility, Ah Mau can shine.
Having talked about the process of figuring out the mix and rotation of the Warriors forward pack after the Tigers game, we are still very much in that phase of the season. Now Sao has an opportunity to flex and the slight change in duties for Ah Mau and Aofa changes the look of the forward pack.
It's obviously super understandable why everyone will discuss Harris-Tavita in the halves, but he'll be hoping for the dummy half running that I talked about earlier this week. With that in mind, this is a rough selection decision for Keighran as he's merely been a part of a Warriors attack that looks slow, clunky and unorganised. That's not Keighran's fault, it's the team that has looked crap with the footy.
Nor do I think any of this reflects poorly on Keighran and this instead seems to be a case of seeing what blokes can do. No one honestly knows who is better out of Keighran or Harris-Tavita and anyone who suggests they do, can't be respected as a footy joker considering that no one has seen both of these two young halves in the NRL arena. It may not even be a case of who is better, more a case of who fits better and Keighran had his chance, now Harris-Tavita has his chance.
These are the joys of a long season and there is a brief window early in the season to give these opportunities to lads to prove themselves. The faultering team attack and lack of any dummy half presence definitely contributed to Keighran not appearing to take his opportunity, but straight up; Keighran didn't demand further selection. If you have two young halves who are evenly matched in competition to start, this simply feels like the best move to make to suss things out.
Hence, Harris-Tavita will be hoping that Lawton is active out of dummy half or that anyone else can actually do stuff out of dummy half this weekend. The last time the Warriors were at Mt Smart, Keighran impressed everyone via a dominant performance from the team in which they set down key markers for how the Warriors play their footy. How Harris-Tavita contributes in such circumstance will be interesting, however difficult to judge and compare back to Keighran.
This is because for the Warriors to win and go about dismantling the Titans, it has little to do with Harris-Tavita. This is a Warriors team that needs to ramp up their energy and aggression, with a beautiful soul-snatching performance at Mt Smart. A certain level of ruthlessness needs to be tangible, in the air and that's probably been a key message at training during the week from Kearney.
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Peace and love 27.