This last cluster of NRL games for Aotearoa Warriors might as well all be must win games and when you're hunting 2 points, the last team you want to encounter is Sydney Roosters. No real areas of weakness, immense talent throughout their roster and a clear way in which the Roosters go about their business all comes together to form a niggly challenge for the Warriors, no matter how well they did in beating Manly Sea Eagles last week.
At the time of writing this, we don't know what role Kodi Nikorima will play. Named on an extended bench, Nikorima's absence has opened the door for Chanel Harris-Tavita to wiggle into more game time as a half. Desipte Nikorima being more experienced and an international half, the class that Harris-Tavita has shown in his limited opportunities is reasonably exciting - to the point where there is no need to view Nikorima as being an automatic inclusion ahead of Harris-Tavita if healthy.
This creates a wee situation that is a nice example of the Warriors depth and such depth should be celebrated. No Issac Luke, Karl Lawton or Nathaniel Roache and between Harris-Tavita, Jazz Tevaga, Adam Keighran and Nikorima there is still enough cover to manage the situation without losing too much. The combination that has me low key enticed is if Nikorima comes on to the bench in place of Keighran and is used either at dummy half, or elsewhere as an injection of x-factor into what has primarily been a mundane attack.
I've always viewed Nikorima's best position as a bench utility and with Harris-Tavita doing a decent job in the halves, along with a bit of space at the dummy half position; Nikorima could slide into that role. That depends on the quality served up by Harris-Tavita though. The Warriors will need their best attacking performance if they are to break down the Roosters defence as the Roosters are 11th in missed tackles and 3rd in points conceded, as well leading the NRL in tries scored.
That's the challenge facing the Warriors. How the Warriors forwards handle a deep, robust Roosters forward pack is going to be crucial and this will offer the cleanest gauge of what the Warriors forward pack is up to in 2019. There is no reason to suggest that the Warriors will be able to contain the Roosters forwards and maintain parity. If they can, then unpredictable footwork, offloads and shifting the footy could trouble the Roosters defence; Raiders had 18 offloads vs Roosters 3 offloads last week and scored 18 points vs Roosters.
Having discussed the Warriors edge forwards during the week, their basic style of play could be useful on Sunday. Adam Blair and Isaiah Papali'i will have the primary job of stopping the Roosters attacking raids, which is a tough combination of matching up against Angus Crichton and Mitchell Aubusson mixed in with making sound reads as Cooper Cronk, Luke Keary and James Tedesco pull the strings.
While I believe the Warriors as a team, can provide enough creativity and funk to make up for what Blair and Papali'i lack, defensively, these two edge forwards have to lead the way. Covering inside shoulders, always showing up and forcing the Roosters to adjust to what the defence is doing will be key roles. Don't expect any level of attacking statistics from Blair and Papali'i, they will be zoned in on what they have to do via effort, intensity and attitude.
Blake Green is an obvious choice as someone to keep close tabs on. All that Green has to do is be the best Green he can, organise and control the game - which we haven't seen to much of this season. Green is the bloke who will be kicking long most of the time and if there is a flow of set for set footy, Green has to find turf and keep the Roosters coming from deep within their own territory. 7-tackle sets and easy outs from the Roosters end will lead to quick play-the-balls and Roosters dominance, meaning Green has to keep the footy in play and kick accurately to give the Warriors a chance of stacking numbers into tackles.
However they want to do it, the Warriors simply need to defeat a very good footy team. This may bring the best out of the Warriors and such a performance would offer a slither of hope as to what the Warriors could dish up in the remaining games of the season. So far in 2019 we have not seen anything defensively to offer hope here, nor have we seen glimpses of clinical attack too often. When trying to produce that which hasn't been sighted for much of the season, it takes supreme confidence and this provides a fascinating little wrinkle as I ponder how coach Kearney is going to get this team sizzling when it matters most.
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Peace and love 27.