Aotearoa Warriors have released Sam Cook to link up with Mackay Cutters in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup and I'm going to get nerdy about the Warriors play-makers. It's also worth noting before I dive into some reserve grade stuff, that Adam Blair did play for the Warriors reserves yesterday in their loss to Penrith Panthers.
Blair played 80 minutes on an edge, in what is now considered a fairly normal Blair performance. The most notable selection in reserve grade though for me, was Sean Mullany starting at hooker and playing 53mins along with Paul Turner who stepped into dummy half for 27mins. These selections signalled the departure of Cook and with Cook out of the picture, Nathaniel Roache injured and Karl Lawton sliding into NRL footy, the hooking duties have now fallen to two Jersey Flegg lads.
Offering great versatility, Cook primarily played as a hooker or half in New South Wales' Canterbury Cup and only a few weeks ago was filling in at fullback for the Warriors reserves. While the Cutters are one of three Queensland clubs aligned with North Queensland Cowboys, it's hard to imagine Cook getting into the Cowboys mixer but he has at least put himself in the system of a club who could need versatile option with lots of lower grade experience.
As long as the Warriors hooking situation stays the same, Mullany now has a great opportunity to rack up reserve grade minutes. Having left the Cowboys after last season to join the Warriors after playing for Aotearoa's Junior Kiwis, Mullany dabbled in NRL trials and then settled into Flegg footy as their main dummy half.
Cook's departure opens the door for Mullany to shuffle up the rankings and if Mullany continues to play reserve grade, Temple Kalepo is the one to benefit in the Flegg team. Turner is unlikely to play much hooker in Flegg as he is the senior half with Sione Moala and Casey Smith rotating around him, while the fact that the reserves team yesterday had Mullany, Turner and Tom Ale as three prospects still Flegg eligible is pretty cool. Factor in Phillip Makatoa as well, given that he has steadily slid between the two grades this season.
The reserves were the only team to play this weekend in Canterbury Cup Magic Round and their loss keeps them in 10th (of 12), while the Flegg team are 9th of 14. Lower grades results are never the best gauge for how an NRL club is performing, given the lack of correlation between lower grade success and NRL success and while I could use a bunch of examples including Warriors examples; Penrith Panthers are 2nd in Canterbury Cup and Flegg, yet 16th in NRL.
If all three teams suck, then there is a major issue. Otherwise it is about preparing players for NRL footy and so far this season we have seen Patrick Herbert, Karl Lawton and Ligi Sao all move from reserve grade to NRL and add value to the NRL team.
We are two games into the Kodi Nikorima era of Warriors footy and while there is immense room for development, the Warriors attack has been given a timely boost. In 10 games this season, the Warriors have scored 20+ points in five games and that includes the last two games featuring Nikorima. The Warriors have won four of those five games in which they scored 20+ points.
The low key thing about Nikorima is his dummy half running, which we have seen for Aotearoa Kiwis and was instrumental in Brisbane Broncos getting to their Grand Final in 2015. Nikorima has had a dummy half run in both games so far, headlined by a run for 24m vs Panthers and Nikorima then passed to Ken Maumalo which ultimately put the Warriors in position for Patrick Herbert's try.
Speed. As I highlighted last week, Nikorima's speed is an asset in the attacking scheme as he can skip outside a defender or two, but then factor in Nikorima's speed out of dummy half and skills to make a play after scooting. Ideally Nikorima runs out of dummy half at least once, maybe twice in a game and we saw exactly what is possible when Nikorima hit the gas against Penrith.
Nikorima's footwork in his try was nice, most notable though was the play that got Nikorima the footy as it was the same play that we saw Roger Tuivasa-Sheck benefit from last week. Against the Dragons, Blake Green pushed the footy back to Tuivasa-Sheck with Nikorima in support:
This week, Green pushed Nikorima the footy with Tuivasa-Sheck in support:
Development is the key here. Upon Nikorima's arrival, the Warriors gave him a supporting role and then the next week it is Nikorima who benefits from the same play. The true beauty of Nikorima’s arrival has been the fluidity of his work and where he pops up, from the base of Nikorima defending on the left. Here is Nikorima at first receiver on the left:
Lovely play there with Tohu Harris coming in hard at Nathan Cleary, then Tuivasa-Sheck out the back with options outside him. Nikorima then uses his speed to have a scamper on the right:
That is off a scrum, although it shows that Nikorima has the freedom to hit either side of the field. Tuivasa-Sheck has always sat in these edge channels for the Warriors and it has taken time for him to add the subtle touches of class to his game, in addition to his running ability. I may take a deep dive into Tuivasa-Sheck’s play-making soon, but for now, the fact that Tuivasa-Sheck can receive the footy from a half who has engaged the line, is a massive level up.
That shot above has Tuivasa-Sheck outside Nikorima on the right and above that we have Tuivasa-Sheck outside Nikorima on the left. Either side of the ruck, all good. Tuivasa-Sheck set up David Fusitu’a last week with his run, fake kick, cut out pass combo and this week he set up Herbert, simply by skipping to the outside and shifting the footy:
Again, the set up is delightful. Tuivasa-Sheck with Isaiah Papali’i cutting back inside and James Maloney isolated in front of him - imagine if the Warriors can get Tuivasa-Sheck attacking an opposition half with space one or two times a game. Look who Tuivasa-Sheck got the footy from as well, with Green to Tuivasa-Sheck on the right edge.
I want to finish with Green, who I believe will improve dramatically in his core role of shifting the Warriors around the footy team. Green now has to do less with Nikorima alongside him and he can do those fundamental jobs, a whole lot better. This is exactly what I reckon Green should be zoning in on as he literally catches the ball like a sitting duck, drawing pressure and putting Agnatius Paasi through a hole:
The shift is on to Nikorima out the back as an option and Green takes the set up play. Interestingly, both Green and Nikorima swing back to the left on the following play, where the Panthers are heavily out-numbered:
The chances of some Warriors funk when Green, Nikorima and Tuivasa-Sheck are hitting an edge together with greater numbers, are super high. Much of this stems from Green taking an effective set up option and having Green sit at first receiver, either side of the ruck to pull strings is the ideal role for him. How the Warriors sprinkle different plays and schemes on top of what we have seen since Nikorima arriving, especially as we have already seen additions to their game in the week between the first two games.
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