Ahead of a niggly encountered against Penrith Panthers, Aotearoa Warriors have had a busy ol' week in terms of sussing out their roster and things might get even funkier in the last few days of June. This Panthers game on Sunday will tell us a fair amount about how serious the Warriors are about making the top-8 as Penrith have had a minor revolution since the Warriors cruised past them a few weeks ago.
I'll roll through some preview thoughts for that game tomorrow or Saturday, here I'm going to explore a couple of wrinkles from the signing of Josh Curran, re-signing of Karl Lawton, possible hunting of Matt Lodge and departure of Solomone Kata. I broke down Kata's move to Melbourne Storm here and in simple terms it's a sound move for all parties, with the nuance sitting in whether Kata can actually get game time with the Storm.
Kata's departure opened up a spot for the Warriors to sign Sydney Roosters forward Josh Curran and that juggling of roster spots is low key important as the Warriors replaced a centre with forward who can play middle or edge. There's no shortage of backline options at the Warriors and Warriors decision-makers obviously feel the need to bolster their forward stocks; not great news for Ligi Sao, Chris Satae, Sam Lisone and Leivaha Pulu.
There has been constant speculation though that Sao and Satae may be off to England's Super League and signing Curran, feels like it's based primarily on the financial repercussions and not so much the quality of players involved. Sao needs a new contract and that's unlikely to come from the Warriors and also notable here is that Blake Ayshford's coming off contract at the end of the year.
Just in that bubble, Curran's signing could be viewed as a replacement for either Sao or Ayshford, or both. Having Curran on a cheaper deal will then likely influence the contract given to Agnatius Paasi, who is likely to receive an upgrade from the Warriors. Lisone and Pulu both have another year on their contracts, while Satae has two more and as we know the NRL player market is a shambles so those contracts mean nothing.
In Curran, the Warriors have a forward who enjoyed a strong age-group rep career and now seeks an opportunity to fulfill his potential in the NRL. Curran has been playing wiht North Sydney Bears in the Canterbury Cup and was selected to start in #13 for NSW Residents this year, playing 34mins for 5 runs/60m which is 12m per run. Other than that, we don't know much about Curran and the focus will be on his performances in reserve grade to see what he could offer the NRL group.
Curran has been named on the bench for the Warriors Canterbury Cup team, where he joins fellow Roosters recruits Jackson Frei (prop) and Adam Pompey (fullback). This is extremely notable because of the connection to Peter O'Sullivan who joined the Warriors this season as a recruitment boss man, having an immediate impact in bringing Pompey and Frei across to Aotearoa over the summer. O'Sullivan would have played some type of role in getting Pompey, Frei and Curran to the Roosters (none of whom are from Sydney) and now all three are named in the Warriors reserves.
This is also how the Warriors have a sniff of signing Matt Lodge from Brisbane Broncos via a personal connection between Lodge and O'Sullivan. With regards to maybe signing Lodge; he's a good middle forward and none of us are in a position to judge folks for their previous actions. Signing Lodge to play alongside Paasi, Leeson Ah Mau, Bunty Afoa, Adam Blair, Isaiah Papali'i and Tohu Harris would be a definite boost to the Warriors and that feels like the best forward pack the Warriors have had in a long time.
What makes this all good, is that the Warriors don't need to be desperate with Lodge and they'll be fine if they miss out on snapping him up. Moves had blatantly been made to enhance the middle forward depth and the only difference is relying more on up and comers, than the solid experienced look that a Warriors pack with Lodge offers.
The Warriors now have Lawton signed for two more years after this one and this has a hefty impact on Issac Luke. The timing here is stink as Lawton got re-signed in the same week that Luke got dropped to reserve grade and while Lawton appears to be a fine dummy half option, to my knowledge Luke hasn't really done anything wrong in his NRL minutes this season.
This is a super weird situation where Stephen Kearney is struggling to get the best out of Adam Blair and is throwing Luke around every which-way. One would assume that Kearney would do the opposite as he appears to have a nice relationship with both and every appears to be happy around Mt Smart. There is a possibility that Kearney is managing the workload of Luke and Blair, preparing them for this stage of the season but the whole thing is weird and the general man-management of Kearney feels strange.
Having Lawton and Nathaniel Roache sans Luke next year will be tricky given that Roache is nothing but injury prone. Roache has a chance to show they he can stay on the field and string together consistent game time, but as of now, Roache's availability isn't exactly reliable.
Not only are we now entering an extremely important stage of the season where the Warriors need to win frequently to merely crack finals footy, the make up of the squad could be heavily influenced by what happens in the next few weeks. Lawton and Roache get their chance this Sunday, while Curran comes up against his former Bears team in Canterbury Cup and we hope for the best.
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Peace and love 27.