Nothing about Aotearoa Warriors win over St George Illawara Dragons was magical, in fact for much of this game it was an absorbing, niggly encounter featuring many of the familiar issues of 2019. One of the more puzzling pieces to the Warriors conundrum has been the feeling when watching the Warriors play this season and at stages of this game, I felt that same bored vibe creep in, only for the pay-off to eventually come.
This feeling crept in every time Blake Green kicked the footy, every time he put up a mid-field bomb and hoped for the best. Green had 15 kicks, Kodi Nikorima had none and outside of a few grubbers from others, Green dictated the game with his boot. Only that it wasn't the most sublime kicking display, some would describe it as a poor kicking display and yet it eventually worked in the Warriors favour.
Via Green, the Warriors continuously handed the footy over to the Dragons around their 20m line and then marked up. Over and over again, Green wouldn't exactly launch a spiral bomb to test the fingers of the Dragons back three, he'd instead merely put up a over-sized chip; not high enough for chasers to come through.
Not a perfect representation of this and we know opposition teams aren't all that keen of keeping the footy in play for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a, but the kick-return metres offer an interesting insight from this game. Matt Dufty had 57m, Jordan Pereira 21m and Mikaele Ravalawa 47m, while Tuivasa-Sheck had 18m, Fusitu'a 15m and Maumalo 41m.
That's 125m for the Dragons and 74m for the Warriors, because the Dragons via Ben Hunt, opted to put the ball over the touchline and the Warriors via Green kept the footy in play through the mid-field chips. There are numerous wrinkles to this and given how dynamic Dufty, Pereira and Ravalawa are, offering them ample opportunity to run doesn't seem like the best idea. When your defensive line is up, as a unit and engaged, then it's less of an issue.
Here we find the main point in digesting a reasonably gutsy Warriors win as it was a win built on simple, tough, defensive foundations. Don't get me wrong, I was bored and frustrated during much of this game because of a clunky Warriors attack and the over-reliance on Tuivasa-Sheck. Because the defence and competitive mindset had been absent all season, I thought we were in the midst of a typical Warriors 2019 performance.
The Warriors played second fiddle to the Dragons in a bunch of stats, however they were in the contest for 80 minutes and after going through the grind, the Warriors scored four second-half tries. Three tries in the last 22 minutes and this coincided with the impetus from the Dragons decreasing, showing what is possible when completing above 90 percent (91).
Smaller, encouraging details were present. After Green put up his kicks, the Warriors were aggressive in holding up the Dragons player and yanking them backwards. We didn't see the swarming defence from last year's win at Mt Smart vs Dragons and the speed of the Dragons posed a threat in the first half, only for a more compressed defence to limit opportunities through the middle. The Warriors missed tackles (38 vs 23), but only gave up 2 line breaks to the Dragons (Warriors had 8) and that's because of scramble defence, following up on the play and covering holes. Edges jamming was present, mixed in with giving the Dragons the sideline after compacting the middle and then sliding out on the Dragons.
All of which, I believe are fundamentals of what coach Stephen Kearney is trying to implement as a style, identity of Warriors footy. I'm making this a key point because it won the Warriors the game in Brisbane and while the Warriors had some first half defensive woes, the ability to go set for set and then score points is encouraging.
With the footy, it's all very basic and there is ample room for growth with Nikorima's involvement. He had no kicks and didn't instigate too much, however the simple asset of speed is a huge boost for the Warriors. For Peta Hiku's try, Nikorima's speed saw him get on the outside of Ben Hunt and merely get Hiku one on one:
It's a three on three down that edge and nothing should be doing, but Nikorima creates something and dictates to the defence. That confidence to dig in the line, with speed is something Nikorima offers that neither Chanel Harris-Tavita or Adam Keighran could, especially with even numbers.
I'm not a huge fan of Tuivasa-Sheck sticking to the edges as I think there is a huge benefit to him hovering around the ruck - think of the breaks made by Nathaniel Roache and Karl Lawton with no support. In super good ball though, Tuivasa-Sheck offers a lot more than hot steps and his set up for for Fusitu'a's try is a delight. It's effectively four on four down the right edge but the first two defenders get caught up by Tuivasa-Sheck, which is because of his direct running, then Tuivasa-Sheck fakes a kick and throws a cut-out pass:
Assess numbers, engage two defenders, fake a kick and throw a cut-out pass. Huh!? That's kinda bonkers and peep where Green and Nikorima are in that shot - both on the open side and we can now ponder possibilities of having that two/one split with the play-makers.
Maumalo's try came from a play we saw last season, with one half switching the ball back to the other side of the ruck. Keep in mind that we just saw Tuivasa-Sheck on the right edge, now he's on the left edge and he does a great job in getting the footy to Tohu Harris under pressure:
That Tuivasa-Sheck is on the left, with Nikorima lurking is enticing. The possibilities of having Tuivasa-Sheck on either edge, along with flexibility in how Nikorima plays could be hugely influential to the Warriors attack. All of which is made possible though, because the Warriors were patient and disciplined to that point. These nuggets of what the Warriors can do in attack are exciting, the substance right now though is in how the Warriors stopped the Dragons and then flipped the game in their favour.
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.