Regardless of how you feel about Penrith Panthers and their hot pile of trash performance in hosting Aotearoa Warriors, the feeling permeating from the Warriors group in defeating Penrith was undeniable. This was a game in which statistics paint a bit of an illusion, or don't quite get into the nitty gritty of what made this such an enticing Warriors performance as they took their soul-snatching ways on the road.
The first 5-10 minutes captured this vibe. With hard running, speed and footwork, the Warriors enjoyed fairly easy passage down the field. The Warriors then established a pattern of driving the Panthers ball-carrier backwards and in this opening stanza, prior to the Panthers imploding with crucial errors, the Warriors defended multiple sets on their try line via staunch defence.
Judging the Warriors defence is difficult after such a game, because of super tame attacking schemes from the Panthers and then their errors. This was the best defensive effort for 80mins that we have seen from the Warriors this season, combine that with the Panthers bumbling so many opportunities and it was a fun game to watch when the Warriors didn't have the footy.
The key defensively is how the Warriors take that performance forward. Great signs were present and I don't want to take away from the fact that the Warriors repelled the Panthers multiple times when the Panthers didn't make errors. How the Warriors slide that defence into a game against a more threatening Broncos team will offer far better insight.
That defence was about mana. The entire Warriors performance was about mana and you could feel that energy from the Warriors. The intensity on offer reminded me of games from last season and there was a nice mix of intensity, aggression and the composure in what was happening. The Warriors knew the Panthers were in trouble early and there was a confidence in what the players were doing that was delightful.
Guys like Isaiah Papali'i and Agnatius Paasi led the physical element of that. Papali'i is on to his third hair style of the season and while he missed 6 tackles, Papali'i led that right edge in doing a decent job on Viliame Kikau. That right edge, other than Blake Green is a thing of beauty now considering that Papali'i, Patrick Herbert and David Fusitu'a are all young lads from Aotearoa, two of which are internationals already and that just feels good as a representation of Aotearoa Warriors.
The mana and energy of this Warriors group can be found in Herbert, a lad who is eager to establish himself as an NRL centre. You can see that Papali'i wants to be an enforcer, Papali'i wants to lead the effort and attitude of the Warriors which is crazy considering his age and experience. A similar, but different feeling could be found in Kodi Nikorima.
Nikorima looks happy. He's chuffed to be a Warrior and while it's a bit corny to compare him to Stacey Jones, Nikorima appears to want that challenge of being a Jones-like presence. Most importantly for Nikorima and the Warriors, Nikorima is the type of half the Warriors need as his speed and footwork aligns perfectly with how the Warriors go about their business. This wasn't/isn't a case of signing a Kiwis half, the Warriors signed a half who is a lethal runner of the footy and in conjunction with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke, that's a snug fit.
Luke made the most of his start with 6 dummy half runs for 51m, an offload and a massive kick down-field that pegged Penrith deep in their own territory and then a strong kick-chase forced an error from Brian To'o. There shouldn't be any discussion about who is the best dummy half at the Warriors, because it is very clearly Luke - however Luke only played 39mins.
I'm reinforcing my sympathetic yarns for Luke and Adam Blair, this time specifically Luke. Given the game context, this was a great opportunity for Karl Lawton to get decent minutes and Lawton ended up with 47mins, 5-7 of which came alongside Luke and the rest at dummy half. Coach Stephen Kearney could very easily, be ensuring that Luke gets his breaks when possible and that Lawton is always prepared for game time.
What we saw last season, was how difficult it can be to sustain such an intensity and this is the issue for the Warriors now. The fundamentals of Warriors footy were on show in this win, as were the possibilities of what a team with such funky attacking combinations could offer. Back to back wins in Australia, with mana points slowly stacking up.
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Peace and love 27.