Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: Same Same, But Different

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Aotearoa Warriors are clinging on to their top-eight hopes and finally showed some clutchy clutch in their 19-18 win over Cronulla Sharks. In an intriguing wrinkle, the crowd in Wellington was hearty and judging by the noise made, the Wellington faithful are well versed in the ups and downs of rugby league, to the point where they kinda dragged the Warriors to the win.

The crowd in Wellington was solid and usually this stuff doesn't lead to any great insight in my noggin, but there was definitely a funky vibe. For those who aren't aware, Wellington produces the most #KiwiNRL players outside of Auckland and I was thoroughly impressed by the crowd in Wellington. This had me wondering if the Warriors could take multiple games to Wellington, seeing as they are the Aotearoa Warriors and there is clearly a demand for Warriors footy in the capital.

As for the game, the Warriors rolled out the same type of performance that has been rather frustrating to watch in recent weeks. The only difference vs Sharks was that the Warriors won and that only leaves you like 'wtf' - why couldn't you just do that to win the other games? In assessing this win, I'm caught between some low key exciting elements from the Warriors in how they controlled much of the game and found a desperate way to win, up against the same mediocre attack that didn't pose any threat outside of individual efforts.

I legit don't think I've ever seen such stink attack from the Warriors. Maybe that is influenced by the players on the field, so I'll re-word it and say that I've never seen such a large disparity between what we hope a Warriors team can offer and what they deliver. With 60 percent of the footy, the Warriors scored 19 points and with over 100 more touches than Sharks (430 vs 323), the Warriors won by 1 point. None of that is cool, or reason to get excited about a finals push by the Warriors.

Footy is complex and there are too many variables in sussing out how the Warriors can be so non-threatening in good ball. There may be some structural stuff holding the Warriors back as they go sideways a lot, yet that starts with the play-the-ball speed and what type of defence is on offer from the opposition. The coaching staff is fantastic and you'd expect the likes of Stacey Jones and Todd Peyton to be able to figure some stuff out with the attack, but right now it's tough to watch.

It says a lot about the Warriors attack that they look their best when they get a roll on and then play like freestyle fizzers. Right now it's the structured stuff that sucks and when I remember to the impressive wins from last season, it was the balance between the threat of well designed and executed structure, mixed in with razzle dazzle. The intent from Blake Green (9 runs/94m) and Kodi Nikorima (13 runs/125m) to run the footy is the best example of this, as they ran as often as possible and that's not structure; when there's space to wiggle, wiggle my bro.

Structure vs plans is a thing. The halves may have had the plan to run as often as possible and that doesn't require any structure, just the intent to keep your eyes up. For Nikorima's crucial try, the Warriors rolled through a nicely designed structure to turn Roger Tuivasa-Sheck back through the middle:

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That's important because when the Warriors hit their opponent's try line, Tuivasa-Sheck moves out to the edges. Then Nikorima gets the footy on the next play and doesn't have much doing outside him, so he targets some defenders who just chased Tuivasa-Sheck:

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Structure to get some flow, then the freestyle on top of it. This is also why Issac Luke is so important and I continue to enjoy Luke's influence as no other Warriors hooker can do what Luke does. His scoot for Green's try, was typical Luke as unlike a lot of hookers who scoot in a straight line, Luke hits different pockets to engage numerous defenders. First, Luke heads left from the ruck:

Then he steps back to the middle, where some defenders may have sat back because Luke wasn't coming to them:

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With some footwork, Luke then exposes hole that wasn't covered by the Sharks defenders who didn't react fast enough to Luke coming their way. Green hits that hole:

Luke wasn't at his best though in terms of output from dummy half, but he didn't need to be. Luke only had 4 runs from dummy half, but this was boosted by Peta Hiku and Gerard Beale taking 2 dummy half runs each and Nikorima's 3 dummy half runs. The impact of Nikorima has been blatant due to his speed when running as a half, but when Nikorima gets into dummy half he is equally as threatening, if not more thanks to that speed.

That dummy half running was also part of absorbing the loss of David Fusitu'a and Ken Maumalo. Obviously their absences impacted how the Warriors got out of their own end, although the Warriors didn't really miss either winger in this game. Having so much footy is part of that and the Sharks didn't build enough pressure to where those absnces became a factor. No one can match the workload and efficiency of Maumalo, but Tuivasa-Sheck had 25 runs, Hiku had 18 and Beale had 15 which definitely helped.

The forwards also took on greater responsibility. Leeson Ah Mau averages 11 runs per game, he had 15 runs last night, Jazz Tevaga averages 9.5 runs and had 18 last night, Lachlan Burr averages 9.8 runs and he had 15. Sam Lisone and Bunty Afoa were on par with their typical work, but both averaged 10+ m/run off the bench and Ah Mau almost hit that mark with 149m from his 15 runs.

All of which ensured that there wasn't a dramatic drop in the Warriors performance without their starting wingers. I won't say the Warriors were better, but they had to operate slightly differently without Fusitu'a and Maumalo, which was pretty cool. Depth is also a factor here as Gerard Beale continues to show that he should be playing NRL footy consistently, Blake Ayshford came in to do a job and Adam Pompey made his debut; Pompey was solid in limited involvement and his size definitely caught the eye.

One little situation to keep tabs on, is the absence of Tohu Harris. The Warriors won this game without their starting wingers and Harris, which is a good sign, but part of the attacking issues may involve a lack of punch on the edges. Adam Blair at least makes up for this with his ball-playing and offloads, while Isaiah Papali'i hasn't quite kicked on in Harris' absence. Papali'i is tough and rugged, but doesn't have a whole lot of footwork, speed or skill and he just lacks that wee bit extra to make him a legit threat.

This has coincided with Jazz Tevaga settling into a starting middle role. If/when Harris returns, Blair could slide back to the middle and Tevaga to the bench, or Blair and Tevaga stay in their spots with Harris coming in for Papali'i. I'd be interested to see Papali'i play through the middle off the bench, with Blair and Harris on the edges if we ever get to that point.

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Peace and love 27.