Aotearoa Warriors fans and casual bang-wagoners would probably, generally feel like the Warriors are a step above Gold Coast Titans in the NRL hierarchy. Right now though, that is a tough call considering what the Warriors have been dishing up and the disconnect from the illusion presented about this Warriors team and the stuttering, identity-less performances we have seen in recent weeks.
Right now, the day of this Warriors vs Titans game, it feels like a grudge match of two plodding teams searching for something. Anything. Something. Previous games vs Titans have been encounters in which the Warriors showcase key elements of their footy style, because the Titans allow them to do so. The Warriors have been able to build confidence against the Titans; scoring points and making their attack look sloppy with gritty defence.
That vibe obviously isn't present at the moment and we have two evenly matched teams who are rather desperate for a win. As was the case last week vs Storm, I'm far less concerned about what the Warriors offer in terms of their attacking schemes and defensive prowess, or what insights we can gain about Warriors footy mid-way through the 2019 season. This game is all about how the Warriors get a win.
Coach Stephen Kearney has ushered Patrick Herbert and Jazz Tevaga back into the group, Herbert starting at centre and Tevaga in his bench role. Gerard Beale had the fewest runs last week, however he was the only Warrior to average more than 10m/run with 9 runs for 95m as every other Warrior got dominated by the Storm when running the footy. Beale also missed just 1 tackle, making 22 tackles and now Beale makes way for Herbert in an unlucky scenario for the veteran.
It would be wee bit crazy to say that Tevaga is a crucial player for the Warriors and while I appreciate the work of Tevaga, I'm not quite that deep into Tevaga appreciation. However, Tevaga only played 8mins vs Broncos and then didn't feature vs Storm; the two games which sparked dark times for the Warriors whanau.
The absence of Tevaga wasn't felt in offloads as the Warriors still managed more offloads than the Broncos (12-9) and matched the Storm 9-9 with offloads. Averaging 11.7 offloads per game this season, those numbers hover around the season average and reinforces the idea that offloads are important but the importance is in how they are used, plus that Tevaga's value may be more evident elsewhere.
My hypothesis is that Tevaga's value is more intangible. It can kinda be measured in his tackle busts as Tevaga averages 1.4 tackle busts per game, which is the most of any Warriors forward (hookers not included) along with Bunty Afoa. I'd suggest this is because of Tevaga's running style, where he jinks around, fends off blokes and has an impact through the middle via his mobility and agility. Take Tevaga out and the variety of the Warriors forward pack diminishes, slowing things down and this compounds the attacking issues.
I was hoping Lachlan Burr would be reinvigorated going back to the bench vs Storm and that resulted in a 3 run for 25m effort in 27mins. The Warriors didn't have much footy, hence the run numbers are low and Burr made 30 tackles, missing just 1 tackle with some running efficiency still present. On the Gold Coast, Burr will come up against a former team and will do so alongside Tevaga, making me eager to see how this combo works prior to half-time as Tevaga, Burr and Bunty Afoa all go about their work in different ways.
Watch out for that first rotation around the 25-30min mark because the footwork, angles and then Afoa's ruthless hit ups could trouble the Titans forwards who may not be as mobile.
Another note on the Titans is that they are 3rd in kick return metres, one of three teams to average more than 100 kick return metres per game. Which teams are 1st and 2nd? Storm and Broncos, meaning that the Warriors are in a three-game stretch against the best kick return metre eaters. The Warriors can not allow the Titans to have over 100 kick return metres tonight, plain and simple. This will be the start of their defensive effort to peg the Titans in their own half and obviously the quality of kicks plays a role here as well, so keep tabs on where kicks land and how the Titans back three return the footy.
As for the Warriors, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a as one of the more dynamic back-threes in the league; 15th in kick return metres with an average of 74m. That is kinda horrible and perhaps a reason for their meh season so far.
The Warriors are also 13th in forced drop outs, averaging 1.5 per game. The Roosters are last in forced drop outs, so it's not crucial to success, although the Warriors need to build fatigue in their opponent, force repeat efforts and manipulate defences, then allowing for greater impact with offloads. If the Warriors want to play tough, gritty footy, they need at least 2 drop outs and ideally more than 3 to really establish that style and then look to score points.
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Peace and love 27.