Aotearoa Warriors wahine grabbed another win over Sydney Roosters in their first game of NRLW and while it came via solid performances across the park, the rise of Canterbury's Charntay Poko hit another level with a commanding effort in the halves. For many, this was the first sighting of Poko playing at a high level and yet Poko has been simmering away waiting for such an opportunity to showcase her natural ballin' abilities.
Former Fijian Sevens play Timaima Ravisa was in the halves alongside Poko, offering the Warriors a completely different halves combo to what they rolled out last season. I suspect that with Ravisa needing to adjust to NRLW, this created a perfect storm for Poko to shine as she was a dominant force in terms of play-making workload. Ravisa had just 9 touches of the footy, with no kicks while Poko had 33 touches and 16 kicks, which tells you all you need to know about who the key figure was.
This offers reason to be intrigued bout improvements the Warriors can make as Ravisa will get more opportunities as she gets more comfy with NRLW. I don't expect the play-making balance to be so heavily in favour of Poko again and the Warriors won't make much of a dent in this competition if Poko is doing all of the kicking and the bulk of the touches; balance is required. Yet in this first game, such a heavy workload gave Poko a platform to do her thing and that's exactly what she did.
Receiving the opening kick-off, the Warriors got to their 4th tackle and signaled their intentions with an early kick via Poko's hefty right boot. Kicking long, Poko caught the Roosters fullback out of position and a nice kick-chase saw the Warriors right edge force a drop-out.
With her first major involvement, Poko sat in the pocket and sent an accurate kick down field. From there, there was a 40/30 (like a 40/20), many more kicks that found open pastures and given her prowess in long kick, Poko's natural funk was evident in her short kicking game. The most notable passage being a chip kick that Poko re-gathered and then swiftly flipped into a lovely grubber for Apii Nicholls to chase (no try). The ease with which Poko executed her variety of skills was emphatic and having watched the opening round of NRLW, Poko looks to be one of the most unique players in the competition.
Not only did she churn out an impressive kicking game, Poko posed a threat any time she had the footy in her hands either with an intention to run or to pass. Early in the game, Poko dummied inside and then sent a long ball out to Hilda Mariu, which went forward and otherwise looked to lack a touch of glass; the skills and threat of using those skills was present though.
Poko appears most comfortable stepping off her right footy, back to the inside where her size and mobility can pose a threat for tired forwards. Here's the best example...
The very next play saw Krystal Rota send Georgia Hale through a hole for a try. The hole was massive on the Roosters try line, thanks to Poko luring in multiple defenders who couldn't recover quick enough to slide out for the next play. With 5 tackle busts and a line break, Poko was always probing as a play-maker and soon got a try for herself when she dummied from hooker, then over-powered the Roosters defender.
Hale played an important role in the team and Poko's performance, operating as a middle forward. Playing the whole game, Hale wasn't overly dynamic running the footy averaging 6.6m/run from 10 runs, yet Hale had 34 touches and threw 24 passes which highlights Hale's role as a link between the middle and edges; Hale was often passing to Poko or Ravisa.
Ravisa helped set up the try that sealed the win, playing her role in a funky attacking movement that involved Hale wrapping around Annetta Nu'uasala, then passing to Ravisa with Onjeurlina Leiataua running a short-ball decoy. Ravisa fed centre Atawhai Tupaea the footy on the outside for a try that wouldn't have been possible without Hale's play-making ability in the middle.
Hale also made 40 tackles and didn't miss a single tackle.
Having made the NZRL National Women's Tournament Team with Akarana, after leading Richmond Roses to the Auckland final and then making her Kiwi Ferns debut, Poko has exploded on to the scene. Her performance in her NRLW debut is merely following that trend and while the Warriors will require more play-making variety, they have one of the most naturally funky footy players in NRLW.
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Peace and love 27.