Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: Now What?

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Newcastle Knights used to be a team that Aotearoa Warriors could bank 2 points against, which was only because the Knights were on a journey to get to where they are now. This weekend the Warriors head to Newcastle to face a fizzing Knights outfit in front of their raucous crowd and you can't help but feel a slither of envy creeping into your loins about what the Knights have manifested.

As Warriors folk, we're still kinda waiting for that manifestation. We're still hoping that the Warriors are on the right track, that the status-quo of on field mediocrity is leading us to more positive vibes and that the winds of change that swept through Mt Smart actually result in NRL success. Sitting, waiting, wishing while the Knights are doing.

The crappy vibes from last week's loss to Penrith Panthers in which the Warriors capitulated to remind us all of how far they haven't come, are aided by the absences of Kalyn Ponga, David Klemmer and Mitchell Pearce. Count the Warriors as lucky that their one trip to Newcastle won't involve Ponga or Pearce, although the Newcastle faithful are likely to be well aware of this and could rally behind their troops even more.

All the right things have been said from the Warriors this week and there was even noise about Kodi Nikorima stepping up with some thoughts for the leadership group. This is beautiful because just like the juxtaposition of the Knights against the Warriors offers all sorts of insight into how footy clubs can be rebuilt, this is a perfect case study of backing up your jibber jabber with straight up footy actions.

It's difficult to offer a technical assessment of the Warriors and how they can get better when their issues come back to playing with a certain level of energy, intensity and enjoyment. These are things that are easily talked about, more difficult to showcase and that's especially the case when we haven't really seen free-flowing, funky footy or rugged, ruthless, intimidating footy; both of which would be equally as impressive as the other.

The Warriors were without Issac Luke and Lachlan Burr last week, which could be notable. Luke's absence was probably felt more as his experience and all-round skill may have helped the Warriors close the game out. Burr was a forced absence, while there was little reason for Luke to be dropped other than Stephen Kearney being a bit weird and these weird vibes flowed into Leivaha Pulu's performance as well; Pulu played 23mins with no touches of the footy.

Granted, that was in the second half when Penrith had most of the footy. But this was Pulu's opportunity, a bloke who was reasonably solid last season and was pushing for top-17 selection this season only to be ghosted to this point. 23 minutes and Pulu doesn't touch the footy? Just weird.

As expected, the reactionary Kearney excludes Pulu for this game vs Knights and Burr conveniently comes back on to the bench. Keep an eye on Sam Lisone as well given that Lisone has enjoyed a free ride back into the top-17 recently and there is an interesting comparison between Lisone and Bunty Afoa vs Panthers; Lisone had 7 runs for a solid 9m/run and Afoa had 11 runs for 10.45m/run.

Not much difference, but Afoa's impact is more in keep with what the Warriors want. Agnatius Paasi had 14 runs for 10m/run and Leeson Ah Mau had 13 runs for 9.38m/run, meaning that if Lisone is only taking 7 runs then he needs to offer impact and efficiency. Burr's return will result in the Warriors have three middle forwards on their bench, instead of carrying Pulu who played on an edge with Adam Blair and Isaiah Papali'i sliding into the middle. If the Warriors can have three forwards coming off the bench to hit the 10m/run mark vs Knights, instead of just one, they'll be far better equipped for this battle.

There's no rhyme or reason around coach Kearney's rotations or selections though, which comes back around to a lack of clarity as to what the Warriors are actually up to. What happens in Newcastle will either offer a glimmer of hope about some routes to finals footy opening up slightly, or we will see a Warriors group who are unable to live up to their own hype, again.

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Peace and love 27.