Unfortunately for Aotearoa Warriors, the Mt Smart graveyard isn't where other teams come to get their souls snatched by a rampant Warriors team and instead, it's where the Warriors wander around aimlessly. Losing 12-46 vs Canberra Raiders felt about right, considering the vibe of either club and the Warriors now have a home record of 4-6, thus making any slither of NRL success rather difficult.
That's where we are at with the Warriors NRL team; they can't quite gather the inner power to put up a fight at home. This isn't uncharted territory though and anyone with any relation to the Warriors has been here before, which is obviously reason for concern as it appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same. My overall gut-feel is that things have changed and that those changes are having more of an impact under the surface, as the NRL team is merely the tip of the iceberg that everyone sees.
The hiding from Canberra does need a wee bit of context, if you can open your mind to it. Five of the eight games were decided by more than 20 points with the Tigers, Raiders, Storm, Sea Eagles and Roosters all enjoying big wins. All of those 20+ point wins came against teams in the bottom eight and regardless of the icky vibe coming from the Warriors, it was the status-quo from the round and reflects the disparity between the tiers of teams at this stage of the season.
Somehow the Warriors could still make the top-eight and being 2-2 over the last four games is kinda solid compared to the Knights (0-5) or Cowboys (1-3), don't forget the Dragons (0-5). Quite simply though, the Warriors are a limited team at the moment and don't have the style of footy to trouble better teams; let alone the effort and attitude component of being a top-tier club.
That's a weird idea when you see that the Warriors aren't at any extremes in team stats across the NRL, if anything the lean to positive extremes like being 1st in post contact metres. The Warriors are 12th in total errors and 13th in penalties conceded, meaning they are among the most disciplined in the NRL and despite all sorts of missed tackles, the Warriors are 6th in missed tackles (crappy but not terrible). 4th in line breaks, 9th in tackle busts, 9th in dummy half runs, 10th in tries scored, 4th in offloads which among being fairly disciplined paints a reasonable picture about the Warriors.
Those stats don't put the Warriors among the NRL's best teams, however they aren't as bad as people would expect and that flows into being 2-2, still with a sniff of Finals footy. It feels bad, although not quite as bad as the dramatic mind makes it out to be. All season long though, the Warriors have looked clunky in attack and despite clear intentions to be a strong defensive team, we have seen no improvements defensively this season.
The intensity and energy required to be a top-tier team is absent. This is evident in the Warriors ranked 15th in 'supports' which I guess is players pushing up in support and although stats can't measure intensity and energy, there has been a noticeable lack of buzz around the footy at the Warriors. This team feels confused and nothing about how the Warriors play their footy is fun, which goes back to me writing about a lack of identity and playing style a few weeks ago.
Coach Stephen Kearney has an opportunity to make a statement via team selection and I highlight this know that Kearney is obviously part of the issue. For whatever reason, Kearney can't get his team firing and this feels similar to David Kidwell being Kiwis coach because we were told that Kidwell would be great for Aotearoa thanks to the passion Kidwell operates with. That led to the Kiwis appearing to not play with much passion at a home World Cup and now Michael Maguire has quickly built a far more passionate group; Kearney is a no-nonsense, hearty mofo who can't get his team performing as such.
I'm optimistic about where the Warriors are heading because of the people who have been brought to the club and what is happening in the lower grades. My gut tells me that this is short-term pain, growing pains and the difference between previous mediocre seasons and this season, is that the club has established a clear path forward out of this kaka. I know that may be hard to envision, it's just how I feel being tuned into what is happening in the Warriors iceberg below the NRL surface.
Kearney has the power to change things and it would be bonkers to keep rolling out the same group, expecting different performances. There is good rugby league depth across all grades at the Warriors now and that means there are players who could step up to take their opportunity and re-fresh the NRL team. Kearney has neglected giving Chris Satae, Ligi Sao, Leivaha Pulu and Sam Lisone consistent NRL game time, Jackson Frei could be another forwards option while Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard and Phillip Makatoa would be funky selections to bring energy into the group.
None of that will happen, it would be nice though. There is no shortage of backline talent waiting for a crack either; Taane Milne, Adam Pompey, Patrick Herbert, Hayze Perham and Adam Keighran. Kearney has options and should explore those options in a sensible, logical way - not 5mins off the bench type of shenanigans that Kearney seems to enjoy.
Against the Raiders, Josh Curran made his debut and unfortunately led the Warriors in missed tackles with 8 ... in 32 minutes. Pretty rough debut that, however Curran also had 8 runs for 83m as one of four Warriors forwards to average over 10m/run vs Raiders (Ah Mau, Blair, Afoa). That's somewhat promising that a bloke making his debut can come in and have a positive impact, granted he also missed a lot of tackles.
The best thing the Warriors could do at the moment is shake things up via selection. I like the Warriors depth and we have seen Herbert, Pompey and Harris-Tavita have decent performances stepping up to NRL footy. There's not much point in having intriguing depth if you don't have faith in that depth and so far in 2019, not too many of the NRL squad have commanded consistent selection.
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Peace and love 27.