How crazy have the last few weeks been for Aotearoa Warriors folk? There has been an abundance of largely unfortunate antics frustrating us, whether it be weird performances or the long list of injuries perhaps influencing those weird performances ... now the club has gone and signed the bro Kodi Nikorima. Nothing has been settled about the Warriors this year and a home game vs Newcastle Knights feels like a good opportunity to settle things down.
I dove into the Nikorima signing this week, so check that out if you haven't and keep in mind that I wrote that before Nikorima was signed - all of which holds up. Nikorima won't be in action vs Knights, meaning that we will probably get one last look at Chanel Harris-Tavita combining with Blake Green. I'm empathetic to Harris-Tavita because much of this craziness has revolved around the halves and Harris-Tavita has been asked to lead an NRL team as the senior half for nearly all of his NRL career thus far.
Not an ideal situation, although Harris-Tavita has shown enough lovely signs to suggest that he has decent NRL potential. I'm eager to see how he performs with Green pulling the strings and adding the classy touches to finish sets that the Warriors have lacked, thus allowing Harris-Tavita a bit more freedom.
Given the disjointed nature of the Warriors 17 each week, a faltering attack can be forgiven. The Warriors haven't come close to combining all their little elements of a slick performance this season; for example we have seen games with lots of offloads, but poor completion. I expect a fairly basic attacking style to be rolled out against Newcastle, with a focus on establishing a grind that is controlled by Green and Issac Luke. Having three kickers will be a huge boost in pegging the Knights down their own end, winning those early tackles with a focus on limiting the influence of Danny Levi around the ruck.
When offloads are used against a defence that has been defending multiple sets, or has been going set for set with the Warriors, it's a vastly different attacking prospect for the Warriors. The 'earn the right to play' saying comes to mind here, in the sense that there is a step before all these offloads which makes offloading so effective. The Warriors are 3rd in offloads, but haven't been able to consistently control games, thus limiting the impact of offloads. Newcastle concede the fewest number of offloads of any NRL team (per Fox), which could force the Warriors into zoning in on earning their offloads.
I am however, confident that the Warriors can score 16+ points at Mt Smart with a their major players in the 17. This is amplified by having Nathaniel Roache off the bench, no Jazz Tevaga though and this is all good because whether it's the speed of Roache or jinking of Tevaga, the Warriors have someone on their bench who can provide x-factor around the ruck.
Defensively is what I'll be paying most attention to, as the vibe of the Warriors being able to defend their try-line and change games with their defence from last season, has vanished this season. We saw this creep into the impressive effort vs Melbourne Storm though, so it's there somewhere and a confident Knights team is going to provide an interesting challenge for the Warriors defence on Sunday.
The Knights have Jesse Ramien on their right edge and Ramien doesn't have the most tackle busts for centres in the NRL, yet he averages the most with 5.3. Ramien is the only NRL centre to average over 5 tackle busts a game, then on the Knights left edge you have Kalyn Ponga doing his thing. What the Knights did last week though was own the middle, with Levi having 106m from 8 dummy half runs and the middle forwards enjoying plenty of metres as well; David Klemmer had 20runs/202m, Daniel Saifiti had 12runs/134m ... both over 10m/run.
If able to dominate the middle, the Knights have the edges to further bring suffering. That's footy 101, what the Knights will be excited about is targeting Peta Hiku and we don't quite know which edge Hiku will operate on. Patrick Herbert was solid at right centre vs Storm and Hiku has started this season at left centre, so will coach Stephen Kearney keep it like that or give Herbert the job of stopping Ramien?
Ideally, we see Herbert settle into right centre with minimal chopping/changing. Herbert will now see different shapes and a different challenge in Ponga though, with a defensive job that is less individually based (do a job on Chambers) and more edge based in sussing out the Knights left edge. I suspect we'll see the wingers (David Fusitu'a may be absent) helping both centres out, by jamming in swiftly and the outside backs will all be better off forcing the Knights play-makers into a play, rather than waiting for the Knights to execute.
All of which will be a whole lot easier if the Warriors are in control. I'm yet to really see that level of play from the Warriors this season and with key players back in action, at Mt Smart, against a Knights team that is for the taking, I'm eager to see a Mt Smart soul-snatching.
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Peace and love 27.