Aotearoa Warriors are still loitering around the NRL top-eight after a 20-24 win against Newcastle Knights and the combination of promising signs as well as same old niggly issues makes for a jumbled wrap up. Despite a few things going against the Warriors, they also enjoyed a bunch of favourable instances, led by Knights fullback Connor Watson gifting Sam Lisone possession for the winning try.
Enjoying 58 percent of the footy, the Warriors were still unable to look slick when down the Knights end. Promising signs were evident, especially with how the Warriors were able to manipulate the Knights defence on the Warriors left edge and at the very least, more time together could help bring the attacking pieces together. The same clunky attacking sets and lack of clarity in what they were up to, from recent games is still present; perhaps the Knights defence couldn't quite smother the Warrior as Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos had done previously.
The tries scored down the left do offer a glimmer of hope though. This is primarily because they involved some element of a plan, mainly revolving around Adam Blair offloading or passing at the line, or using Blair as a decoy in conjunction with Blair getting the footy. The first try to Peta Hiku had Blake Green hitting Blair, then wrapping around as Blair got the footy out to Green and the Knights were in trouble regardless of whether Green hit Hiku short, or Roger Tuivasa-Sheck out the back:
Then came the decoy, as Green hit Kodi Nikorima behind Blair for a clear three vs two overlap from which Ken Maumalo scored:
Blair then does a great job offload in this tackle for Nikorima, after Nikorima had hit Blair short and quick hands get the footy to Maumalo:
The first try involved Green and Tuivasa-Sheck, then it was Nikorima sitting on the left edge wheren he has tended to operate since his arrival. This effectively puts Nikorima on the left, Green directing traffic and Tuivasa-Sheck out on the right. I reckon this isn't working quite as effectively as it should and the Warriors are a team who play from sideline to sideline, often doing so with slow play-the-balls and limited opportunities out on the edges; hence they can hit a cul-de-sac out on an edge from slow stuff in the middle.
A lot more work needs to be done to earn those rights to hit the edges. The Warriors were fairly lucky that the Knights couldn't suss out their edge defence and if the Warriors have a 3.18sec vs 3.66sec (Waz) difference in average play-the-ball speed, plus just one forward ducking under 3sec average play-the-ball speed, against a better Knights team or any other top NRL team, they'll struggle to score points.
There has been a low key switch in Blair's productivity, although his running stuff isn't quite as important as his role as a minor play-maker on the edge. Last week vs Penrith Panthers, Blair had 11 runs for 9.09m/run and this week Blair had 10 runs for 8.1m/run, neither of which are amazing stats but a definite improvement on his season average of 6.8 runs per game for 7.94m/run. The last two games for Blair have also been on par with Isaiah Papali'i's output and efficiency as Papali'i had 9 runs for 9m/run vs Panthers and 12 runs for 8.33m/run vs Knights.
Sam Lisone also offered some interesting involvement, especially given that Karl Lawton only played 14mins, Jazz Tevaga had to leave the field with 56mins to his name and Bunty Afoa appeared to be injured in playing just 19mins. Lisone wasn't overly amazing running the footy with 12 runs for 6.66m/run (oddly mediocre), but Lisone did have 7 passes from his 14 touches and the only forward who isn't a hooker with more passes than Lisone was Blair's 11.
With 6.66m/run and the worst tackle percentage of any Warriors forward in this game (4 missed tackles, 26 made), Lisone didn't exactly have a great game. He did however show the value of a ball-player to link between the ruck and halves, which is necessary when Blair is playing on an edge and Tevaga's off the field. This is the same old story for Lisone as he's always shown a slick pair of hands, but he hasn't kicked on to anything of note and needs to offer a splash of class to his run/tackle duties on top of any passing.
Remember like, last week or maybe 10 days ago? Karl Lawton and Nathaniel Roache were the Warriors primary dummy half options, pushing Issac Luke to reserve grade. Roache buggered his knee last week and Lawton did his shoulder vs Knight, leaving Luke to play 66mins and do a typically solid job.
Luke wasn't amazing vs Knights, not quite as explosive as he can be with 5 dummy half runs for 9.4m/run, 1 tackle bust and 1 offload. Solid though and now Luke is the top dummy half available, with the stars appearing to align for Luke to feature heavily in any finals push.
In finding a way to win, the Warriors got the job done. There was little from this win to suggest that the Warriors can make waves in the finals, or even seal a finals spot. A little bit of funk went their way though and a few cheeky building blocks were laid down, leaving us to wonder what moves are made next.
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Peace and love 27.