Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: Lacking The Funk

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With every round of footy and every NRL season that I absorb into my loins, it's super duper clear that sustaining a high level of performance on a game to game basis is nek level difficult. Kinda impossible in the modern NRL landscape in fact and having watched this exact flow during Aotearoa Warriors 2018 campaign, their inability to throw any funk at the Brisbane Broncos defence wasn't all that surprising.

The Warriors went down 2-8 in a weird ol' contest. My preview zoned in on the battle of the forwards and in that regard, I'm chuffed with how the Warriors forward pack maintained parity with the Broncos pack. This wasn't about dominating the Broncos pack, as the mere intent to get grizzly with the Broncos set the tone for this game and it's hard to bring any of the lacklustre elements of this game back around to what the forwards did in the trenches.

Most, if not all the lacklustre elements for the Warriors sat in attack. With Darius Boyd doing his thing defending in the line and also, a Broncos team who knew everything Kodi Nikorima would do, the Broncos had a force-field lined up on the try line. One of the most underwhelming Warriors performances with the footy saw them unable to turn their own solid defence and effort to compete up the guts, into attacking joy.

And I don't feel all that bad about it.

There are definitely points on the attack to touch on, however if the attacking motions in good ball were the biggest problem? All good baby, baby. Things people love to poke the Warriors about and view as the worst weaknesses, weren't too much of an issue against Brisbane; the Warriors had delightful attitude and intensity. Those intangibles kept the Warriors in the game and I'd much rather see a Warriors team tick those boxes with an off night in attack, than the other way round.

One, brief lapse in that regard saw Anthony Milford score the lone try. Ligi Sao, playing more minutes to cover the absence of Jazz Tevaga conceded two penalties and then got caught out by Milford. Tough night for Sao, the type of game you really don't want to have when you're on the fringes and in isolation, that was the only major slip up.

The balance of the forward didn't exactly lean into free-flowing attacking funk either, which was largely forced with the absence of Agnatius Paasi and then Tevaga. What these players offer was missing, duh, but this also played a role in Adam Blair and Lachlan Burr playing together, along with some Karl Lawton minutes as a forward. There was a heavy defensive focus for the lads in the middle with Blair making 44 tackles and Burr 43, which encapsulates this whole conundrum as their efficiency with the footy decreases.

Blair and Burr were nicely suited to offering the energy and attitude against Brisbane's pack, yet the Warriors lacked that extra bit of pizzazz to help their attack. Ideally, minutes are split and there's greater variety in shapes, skills and styles, but that wasn't a luxury the Warriors had in this game.

If your friends want to bring up Blair's running stats, give them the respect of looking like you're listening and then tune out. Blair was involved in two tackles two forced repeat sets, made his 44 tackles without a miss and led the whole vibe of the Warriors forward pack. That's an above-average performance and Blair won't hit those heights every week, nor will he be required to play 67 minutes in the middle every week.

Blair's 11runs/84m and Burr's 7runs/54m in 44mins, are alright when the whole Warriors schtick is David Fusitu'a and Ken Maumalo being monsters. Both wingers averaged over 10m/run with Fusitu'a taking 18 runs and Maumalo 22 runs, which alludes to where the Warriors put their energy for this game; making this a tough, niggly game in the middle.

Job done. Although, any time you do that you are giving up other aspects of your game. Even injecting Buny Afoa in for his 11runs/115m isn't quite enough because Afoa's settled on his 'run it straight' niche and the Warriors were missing Paasi's right foot step, late at the line, or Tevaga jinking all over the place. Maybe Afoa could have played more than 30mins, but we saw the result of Sao getting a slither of extra game time in a tough contest.

None of this is really a problem and is more circumstantial, as well as an example of how difficult it is to operate at a high energy/intensity level with and without the footy. The Warriors did what was required without the footy and with the footy, they did what was required up until they got into good ball.

As for the Warriors attack...

An off night is one wrinkle. Blake Green's kicks to Maumalo that swung away from the try line, another wrinkle. Lack of buzz around the footy, primarily when Green took one of his 15 runs via one of his 15 dummy passes, another wrinkle. Shifting to the edges on the back of slow play-the-balls, easily defendable and another wrinkle. Kodi Nikorima being sussed out, another wrinkle. All the defensive/intensity stuff I said above, another wrinkle.

Green and Nikorima had a far better kicking split this week with Green taking 16 kicks and Nikorima 5, they each forced repeat sets (Green 2, Nikorima 1). I like Green's bombs, 40m out that appear to do nothing and I don't need to explain all that again here, those weren't the issue vs Brisbane; the kicks to the wingers that were slightly off were. But, for every one of those, there was a Green grubber that curled into a dangerous error, forcing a repeat set or an error.

That is to say that while they could have been a whole lot more potent, the halves ran the footy with vigour and the kicking situation was alright. Hmm, what about dummy half? Luke had 6 dummy half runs for 61m, Lawton sparked up with 2 for 29m and having highlighted Nikorima as a dummy half threat last week, he came out with 2 for 28m from dummy half.

Fairly good Warriors work around the ruck.

Upon reflection, I settle on Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Not that the skipper was to blame for the Warriors attack, Tuivasa-Sheck just had a slight dip in his work and that played a role. The zip, spark and power was absent; Tuivasa-Sheck had just 1 tackle bust and that's the fewest all season. In a game where the Warriors poured their energy into a grindy encounter, applying themselves against a rugged Broncos forward pack, that extra bit of spice from Tuivasa-Sheck wasn't quite there.

I'm paying attention to where Tuivasa-Sheck is operating at the moment also. Every time Green dummied and ran, he was alone, along with the dummy half action from Luke and Lawton. Remember when Lawton was running vs Dragons? Alone. That should be Tuivasa-Sheck, hovering around the ruck ready to pounce on any little tasty break.

Instead, Tuivasa-Sheck takes tough carries and then slides out to the edges in good ball. This is all good and we have seen how effective Tuivasa-Sheck is this season doing that type of fullback role, although when someone runs, I'm dreaming of Tuivasa-Sheck bursting on to the footy. Merely switching a focus to having Tuivasa-Sheck buzzing around the ruck/footy, could ignite a different aspect of the Warriors attack.

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Peace and love 27.