The best thing about NRL footy at this stage of the season is that teams either back up their talk by winning and cracking finals footy, or they stumble. Ahead of their round 19 clash with Parramatta Eels, Aotearoa Warriors are at a juncture where they either go down the path of aligning their performance with their intentions or go down the path that Warriors fans are all too familiar with and fade away when it matters most.
After playing Parramatta, the Warriors play Canberra Raiders twice, Sydney Roosters, Manly Sea Eagles, Cronulla Sharks and South Sydney Rabbitohs. All those teams are currently in the top-eight except for the Sharks, who are in the same position as the Warriors and thus that game will be as important as the others. The Warriors either rise to the occasion this weekend and in the coming weeks, or they fade.
Parramatta feels like a team that the Warriors need to beat, assuming that they will lose a couple games in this last crop of games. However, playing against Parramatta at their new stadium automatically makes Parramatta the favourites and the atmosphere on Saturday evening at Bankwest Stadium is going to give the Eels a hefty boost. Perhaps a bunch of Warriors fans may show up and counter that, but the Eels tend to be a different team when playing at the their new stadium
On that stadium thing; I'd love Auckland to have just one stadium like Bankwest, or what Melbourne Storm have. For many Warriors fans this will be the first time they have seen Parramatta's new home ground, so pay attention to the vibe and atmosphere on offer, then think about the shambles that is Auckland. For whatever reason, Auckland thinks that having three stadiums is normal for a city of Auckland's size and that's weird when one stadium like Bankwest in Sydney would suffice.
Ideally Kodi Nikorima plays as his speed and running ability gives the Warriors an exciting set up down their left edge. Nikorima played seven games for the Broncos and had three games with no tackle busts and since joining the Warriors, Nikorima has played eight games with at least 1 tackle bust in every single Warriors game. Even more so recently, there looks to be a far clearer intention to run the footy from Nikorima an Blake Green which could flow into a plan against the Eels.
Manly Sea Eagles tore the Eels apart by running the footy after quick play-the-balls and playing with little structure outside of the desire to run around the ruck, while players push up in support for offloads. The Warriors aren't really about that life, although when they do decide to freestyle on the back of a quickie, they showed how dangerous they can be; Green and Nikorima scored tries from freestyle footy.
The speed of Issac Luke and his ability of offload or pass at the line will be crucial for the Warriors, while Nikorima's one or two runs out of dummy half could be hugely influential in deciding the game. The Warriors though don't play with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck buzzing around the ruck like Tom Trbojevic or James Tedesco and while I'd love to see Tuivasa-Sheck focus on the simplicity of support play, he tends to do his play-making out on the edges.
Last week vs Cronulla, the Warriors enjoyed 7 dummy half runs from their backs. That was partly influenced by the absences of Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a as Gerard Beale and Peta Hiku aren't the types for running it straight. If the Warriors can integrate dummy half running from their backs with Maumalo's hit ups, they should be able to generate a tempo that can lead to more flow in the attacking zone.
This could be a nice match up for the Warriors forwards as the Eels have a size advantage, but as we have seen under coach Stephen Kearney; this Warriors group thrives in being more mobile and agile than their opposition. The only super mobile Eels forward is Nathan Brown, while Kane Evans, Junior Paulo, Daniel Alvaro, David Gower and Tepai Moeroa are all of the bigger, clunkier variety. That can obviously play into the Eels style, although it feels better suited to the footwork of Leeson Ah Mau, Jazz Tevaga bouncing around and then someone like Lachlan Burr running different angles.
While Manly tore Parramatta up through the middle, halves Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses missed 5 tackles each, as did edge forward Shaun Lane and Manu Ma'u missed 6 tackles. Lane is replaced by former Warriors junior Marata Niukore this week, but even Niukore missed 3 tackles in 38mins. Those aren't middle forwards, yet these missed tackles could still have come from defending close to the ruck.
Either way, that's an area to target. Should the Warriors generate a tempo in the middle, then they can target the halves, or if they need tempo they can hit the edges and work from there. The niggly thing is that while Parramatta Eels feel extremely beat-able, with numerous weaknesses to target, they hit a nek level playing at home now. None of what happened last week matters and the Eels will be eager to bounce back on home turf, only adding to intrigue as to how the Warriors respond.
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Peace and love 27.