We are 10 rounds into the 2019 NRL season and we still don't quite know, with any great certainty what this Aotearoa Warriors forward pack is capable of. Solid performances have largely come against teams with forward packs there for the sacking, while the Warriors have otherwise struggled when coming up against a robust pack and on Saturday night, a rather impressive Brisbane Broncos forward pack will be eager to make their mark at Mt Smart.
The Broncos forwards were emphatic last week in defeating the Roosters, with Matt Lodge averaging 11.21m/run in 19 runs, Payne Haas 11.05m/run from 20 runs and while Tevita Pangai Junior only averaged 7.89m/run from 15 runs, he had 7 offloads to make up for it. The Broncos come to Mt Smart with those three leading the way, Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett on the edges, then David Fifita, Thomas Flegler and Joe Ofahengaue rolling off the bench.
That makes me a bit scared. The Warriors give up size to the Broncs and that's nothing new, with the Warriors tending to counter any size disparity with their mobility, footwork and speed. Although this Broncos forward pack doesn't lack in those departments either and the Warriors forwards look kinda tame compared to this Broncos pack.
A major issue for the Warriors has been getting up to play at a high level with vibrant energy one week, then taking a dip in those departments the next week. The Warriors have had two good outings - wins over Dragons and Panthers - which could be viewed as rising to a high level, yet the Warriors didn't do that for 80 minutes in either game as they got smoked in the first half vs Dragons, then Panthers were simply meh. The Roosters on the other hand have a younger forward pack, that hit a nek level vs Roosters and now comes to Mt Smart.
Perhaps that provides an opening for the Warriors, assuming that they can sustain the level of intensity that blew away the Panthers ... at the very least. Hence, being scared makes me excited as we are going to see the substance of the Warriors forwards and how they hold things down through the middle, for that mobility and speed to be a factor.
Adam Blair's return is then no surprise. Likely to play through the middle, in conjunction with Jazz Tevaga, the mobility and work rate of these two should help the Warriors counter the Broncos forwards. Of the four leading tacklers for the Warriors (Isaiah Papali'i, Jazz Tevaga, Lachlan Bur and Blair), Tevaga and Blair are the two who average less than 2 missed tackles with Tevaga averaging 1.2mt/game and Blair 1.4mt/game.
I'm not here to convince about Blair's inclusion, this is more about the process of finding out what this Warriors forward pack is up to. Blair and Tevaga are a specific type of forward, who epitomise how the Warriors play their footy and if they are to control the Broncos forwards, these two will be a key reason off the bench.
That's also because of this offload/passing aspect of Warriors footy. I view this as relevant in countering the Broncos forwards; move the footy to the edges, get the footworkers angling back to the middle. Some would be surprised to know that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck leads the Warriors in offloads with 1.8 per game, then it's Blair with 1.5, Sao 1.3, Tevaga 1.2, Burr 1.2, Paasi 1.2, Ah Mau and Luke 1 offload/game.
Where do those players primarily operate? In the middle of the park and if the Warriors can establish a flow where they are forcing the Broncos middles to chase the footy, that's how they'll create space for the speed or isolate a lazy effort.
A lot of noise will be made about Kodi Nikorima coming up against his old team and he will be fizzing to influence this game. Everything about this game though revolves around the forwards and the Warriors will have Agnatius Paasi leading the mana to start the game, along with the angles and footwork of Leeson Ah Mau and Lachlan Burr. From there, it'll be Warriors footy 101 and we'll be graced with the insight as to whether the Warriors can genuinely establish their schemes against a immense Broncos forward pack.
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Peace and love 27.