In terms of assessing a weekend's shenanigans in a bubble, this past weekend was a delight for Aotearoa Warriors. All three teams played Cronulla Sharks, or Newtown Jets who are aligned with Cronulla and all three teams grabbed wins. This isn't the status quo this season and I'm often pondering a club that has all three teams losing, offering reason to be concern outside of what the NRL team is up to.
This definitely ain't a big celebration of what the Warriors are doing, especially as we take some results in context. The NRL team defeated a Sharks team that's caught in a bit of a hole and is outside the top-eight, Warriors reserves grabbed a big win over the Jets and the Jets are one of four teams lower than the Warriors on the Canterbury Cup ladder, but then the Jersey Flegg Warriors rallied to get a win over the Flegg Sharks who are top of their competition.
All of that simply means a good weekend for Mt Smartians. Nothing to get overly crazy about, although a collection of results that may signal a slight shift in how the season may be moving for the whole club. The win over Cronulla for the NRL team was as annoying as any of their recent outings and the Warriors were graced with opportunities presented by the Sharks to win. That shouldn't dampen the solid vibes though as Adam Pompey and Blake Ayshford came into the backline to absorb the loss of what is probably the Warriors best attribute in their robust wingers.
Chanel Harris-Tavita has also come into the team in recent weeks, covering for Nathaniel Roache and Karl Lawton to play dummy half minutes off the bench. In the draw vs Brisbane Broncos, Harris-Tavita also plugged a backline hole after Maumalo left with an injury and in these last two games, Harris-Tavita has offered a unique package as he's kicked freely; either from left centre or dummy half.
This is a Warriors team with Jazz Tevaga starting as a middle forward, taking 18 runs and despite clearly being under-sized, Tevaga finds ways to be effective. Tinkering has been a constant this season, especially in the forwards as coach Stephen Kearney looks for the right combination and while much of the tinkering has come from Kearney, recently this has been more about plugging holes and digging into the depth chart.
I don't see anything to suggest that the Warriors are generating momentum, riding a wave into finals footy. The Warriors NRL group is however rolling through niggly changes and laying down base-level Warriors performances through this stretch, which is encouraging. This then flows into reserve grade, who had numerous changes to their initial team named earlier in the week but as we would hope from the entire Warriors club; regardless of the changes, lads stepped in to do their job.
Temple Kalepo has been playing Flegg this season and after Tyler Slade and Sean Mullany made the consistent jump to Canterbury Cup, Kalepo enjoyed plenty of minutes starting for the Flegg team. Slade had been starting at hooker recently, but he was unavailable, so Kalepo started at hooker vs Newtown and Mullany came off the bench as he's done steadily this season. With Slade and Mullany in the Canterbury Cup team, two Flegg dummy halves were being used and it was even funkier with Kalepo and Mullany.
They were joined by Paul Turner coming in at fullback to replace Pompey and Phillip Makatoa as Flegg players in the Canterbury Cup team. Chuck in King Vuniyayawa as he got a call up to the bench despite appearing to fall out of favour at the Warriors and sliding back to club footy in Auckland this year. The Manurewa Marlins forward had 9 runs for 116m which is a hearty effort and while the big dawg forwards (Chris Satae, Jackson Frei, Ligi Sao, Leivaha Pulu) all led the way, the sprinkling of contributions from those stepping up was a great sing.
With Kalepo in Canterbury Cup, up stepped Taniela Otukolo from Otahuhu Leopards to start at hooker. Otukolo was named in the Aotearoa Under 18 Residets squad earlier this year, alongside Sione Moala and William Fakatoumafi who were the Warriors halves combo vs Cronulla. As was Kalepo, meaning that the Canterbury Cup and Jersey Flegg hookers this week were both named in the same Aotearoa U18 squad this year.
Four players from outside the intial 17 came into the team that upset the Sharks; Fakatoumafi, Jyris Glamuzina, Harley Maynard and Michael Lemafa. Glamuzina was also in that Aotearoa U18 squad, meaning that the Warriors grabbed this upset with four (maybe more) players who are still Under 18 eligible. That's largely made possible by the steady work from the more experienced Flegg players such as Wesley Veikoso, Tom Ale and Brody Tamarua; Ale and Tamarua have played Canterbury Cup this year.
Every Warriors team had to deal with a slither of adversity in their team changes, all three teams came away with a win. That's a low key impressive note for a club that hasn't really enjoyed such widespread success this season and to have various players rising up a level across all three grades could point to a mid-season pivot. Perhaps a pivot to a more positive back end of the season.
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Peace and love 27.