Aotearoa Warriors announced last week that Agnatius Paasi has re-signed for three more years, while the deja vu around Issac Luke's situation again offers plenty of intrigue. The Warriors are still in the mix for a top-eight spot, although how they went about their business against Brisbane Broncos suggests that there's not a whole lot of winning vibes around the club at the moment.
Hence, the most interesting thing to talk about are the contracts. The absence of any winning mentality was kinda funny, although equally as sad for the Warriors and we continue to get repeat doses of a team that simply doesn't know how to win, or win consistently. Keeping Paasi around for three more years won't exactly help that, although the steady presence of Paasi alongside Leeson Ah Mau does offer a decent foundation through the middle.
The beauty here sits in the value of these deals, which no one knows about. Being embedded in the NRL landscape, I can catch a vibe though and it felt like Paasi came back to Auckland from Gold Coast Titans on a fairly cheap deal, then I don't think it would have been an overly difficult task to keep Paasi around. Being in Auckland and having stability would be ideal or Paasi and he's developed nicely to be a starting middle forward, apparently wiggling his way into the leadership group as well.
Here are Paasi's season averages, along with Ah Mau's...
Paasi: 42.7mins, 11.5 runs, 99m, 0.9 tackle busts, 1.7 offloads, 1.3 missed tackles, 0.2 errors, 0.5 penalties conceded.
Ah Mau: 46.4mins, 11.4 runs, 100m, 1.5 tackle busts, 0.8 offloads, 0.4 missed tackles, 0.3 errors, 0.1 penalties conceded.
The only area that kinda needs improvement are the running efficiency numbers, with Paasi averaging 8.6m/run and Ah Mau 8.7m/run. These two do manage to sneak up around 10m/run often though with Ah Mau averaging 10.53m/runand Paasi averaging 9.64m/run against a bigger, more rugged Broncos forward pack. The reliability and steadiness of these two is impressive, especially as you can count on disciplined work (errors/penalties) and bank on a tackle bust and offload every game.
Not only do I partner Paasi with Ah Mau because they have both settled quickly into starting roles, I also believe Ah Mau is in a similar contract situation as Paasi. Ah Mau was signed until the end of 2021 (Paasi's 2022) and I doubt Ah Mau demanded a high price tag, considering he was also returning to Auckland and doesn't seem like the type of chase money. However you feel about how the Warriors spend their salary cap, there appears to be great value in Paasi and Ah Mau.
Ayshford and Sao have both been mentioned as Super League targets, as has Chris Satae. Satae however, is signed until the end of 2021 and is in a strange spot where he can quite get over the hump into consistent NRL footy. Remember that over the space of 18 months, Satae went from club footy in Auckland through all the various rep levels to earn an NRL contract with the Warriors.
Sao definitely feels like he's on the way out and I'm intrigued to see what happens with Satae. They are obviously similar in that they play in the forwards and that's not ideal for either of them, considering that the Warriors could get more value out of younger forwards coming through; Jackson Frei, Phillip Makatoa, Preston Riki, Josh Curran, Eliesa Katoa and Tom Ale etc. All it takes is to promote a younger forward, led Sao and/or Satae go and the Warriors will save some salary cap space.
Ayshford could be re-signed, on a bargain deal if he's keen to stick around and help a very young reserve grade group out. This is a weird idea and Ayshford is probably keen to play Super League footy, but Ayshford appears comfortable in Auckland and offers value to the Warriors outside of being an NRL option.
Then we have Luke, who is in an extremely similar situation to last season. I can't make a read on this because of how weirdly coach Kearney treats Luke, which differs from my belief that Luke is still the best hooker at the club and among the best in the NRL. Nathaniel Roache and Karl Lawton have both suffered injuries recently, shooting Luke into the top spot (for many, he's always been there for me) and the smartest move would be to re-up on Luke for another year.
Roache is unfortunately unable to stay available via injuries and Lawton's nice, not quite the big dawg just yet though. Tyler Slade and Sean Mullany are coming through the ranks, both of whom could feature in the Junior Kiwiws this year, however they need time to develop. Having Luke around the club, would be a shrewd move to help Slade and Mullany build into NRL footy, while also offering stability while Roache and Lawton suss themselves out.
Blake Ayshford, Ligi Sao and Issac Luke are no the remaining players off-contract. Jazz Tevaga has a player option and given that he's clearly in favour with coach Stephen Kearney, the best option for Tevaga is to take up that option for next year. Hayze Perham on the other hand, apparently has a team option and as the Warriors have invested a lot of time into developing Perham, expect the club to take up that option.
There doesn't seem to be any need for the Warriors to hit the market. They seemed to be in the mix to sign Mathew Lodge, although considering the links between Lodge and the Warriors, that kinda felt like a play to get Lodge some leverage. One could look at performances and suggest that the Warriors need new players, but as I wrote about a few weeks ago, the whole club is struggling and the exciting winds of change through Mt Smart have only resulted in a minor depression.
It's up to the club to get themselves out of this hole and at every level, the Warriors have the talent and people to be doing much better. Signing a couple players for the NRL team would be a superficial fix and I suspect that the fixes at Mt Smart are being worked at a far deeper level.
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Peace and love 27.