Magic Round in Brisbane will hopefully bring a sprinkling of magical abundance for Aotearoa Warriors as they come up against St George Illawara Dragons on Saturday night. The Dragons are a solid footy team, who will be missing Corey Norman in the halves and even without Norman, the Dragons have all the tools to hand the Warriors another rather stink loss.
As for our Warriors, who knows how they will show up. Kodi Nikorima gets his first game alongside Blake Green, while Nathaniel Roache starts at hooker and Ligi Sao comes on to the bench; Adam Blair and Issac Luke are missing. At this stage of the Stephen Kearney, it's become clear that Kearney isn't the most predictable or logical bloke when it comes to selections and trying to suss out why Kearney makes his decisions is a code I cbf cracking.
The thing with Kearney's selections though, is that they don't really matter when we are dealing with a team that doesn't have a schtick. When other fans are pointing out to me, that this Warriors team lacks an identity, a major issue is prevalent as fans need something they can grab on to. I'm definitely of the belief that this Warriors team has no identity and while this idea can often point to a razzle dazzle or gritty mindset of a team, the lack of a style of footy this team wants to play is the biggest bummer.
Based on last season, I have discussed elements of a style of footy many times in these Diary entries. This style was kinda generic and I was thinking that it would become more relevant as we entered another season, only for many of these nooks of Warriors footy to be absent to start the season. Offloads are still a constant, but the balance between structure and razzle is missing, so is the goal-line defence and the belief in their fitness which allows the Warriors to shift the footy and be content going set for set, has gapped the scene.
Leaving us, to wonder what this team is up to? This team clearly doesn't have a defensive focus, nor has their attack come close to absorbing the demise of their somewhat enticing defence from last season. The Warriors love an offload, which doesn't correspond with winning games and instead of classy touches with the footy, everything has been 'give it to Roger'.
Ideally, with Nikorima and Green getting game time together, we see some attacking developments. I suspect we will see Nikorima on the right edge, Green on the left and this could result in Nikorima combining with Patrick Herbert in an enticing wrinkle of Nikorima's arrival. Averaging 4.4 kicks/game, Nikorima will take some heat off Green who has been averaging 11.2 kicks prior to Nikorima's Warriors debut and then we have Nikorima's running game.
Green runs when required, keeping defences honest. Nikorima runs to set something up or target a defender and his speed adds a different element to the Warriors halves, which will be an interesting watch given that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's a runner and Nathaniel Roache is starting. Averaging 4.4 runs and 41m, Nikorima's running stats are basically double Green's (2.4runs/21m) and the threat of a more well-rounded attacking game should compliment Green's work.
Nikorima also missed 4.4 tackles per game and that's the most of any half except Josh Reynolds' 5.3. Peta Hiku is 2nd in missed tackles for the Warriors and he should be on the left edge, while Isaiah Papali'i is 4th and Tohu Harris is 5th in Warriors missed tackles. Herbert is 8th for Warriors missed tackles, so regardless of who lines up on the right, the Warriors will have three right edge defenders who all miss 2+ tackles per game (eight players).
The non-selection of Luke interests me and while I'm not here to try make sense of it, I just want to lay down some facts about Luke this season. Luke has been solid in the opening stanza and in 'negative' stats, Luke doesn't stand out among the NRL's hookers. Luke averages 1.5 missed tackles and six starting hookers average more missed tackles, while Luke is 13th for errors and 19th for penalties conceded for NRL hookers.
Luke's averaging 3.5 runs for 27m, 1 offload and 1.8 kicks per game. Not Luke's best work but solid and the Warriors will be without a kicking threat from dummy half while Roache is on the field. None of this is enough to drop Luke and we have seen his value, during a niggly period in which the Warriors barely had a half, let alone two. Now that it's Nikorima/Green, Luke is absent and that's a bit weird.
I reckon it's a rest/rotation type of thing, because we have seen Kearney tinker with Luke's minutes and availability this season. Roache will offer speed and nice service from dummy half, then Karl Lawton offers impact off the bench and the energy that these two provide could be infectious for the team. Just don't get too dramatic on Luke's absence and I suspect we'll see him in the mix within a week or two.
Ligi Sao has been playing edge in reserve grade, yet I think he'll slide into the middle for the NRL team.
How do you counter the tactics to keep the footy away from Tuivasa-Sheck? Kick pressure, which requires energy and effort, as well as control. With immense front-foot ball last week, Newcastle kicked with time and space, so look for the Warriors to ensure that most Dragons kicks are impacted.
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Peace and love 27.