Sunday, 24 May 2020

NZ Warriors Season Restart Preview: The Warriors Roadshow begins.... Again

Well the 2020 NRL season has been one of the strangest to date, with the Covid-19 situation affecting everyone worldwide and placing the 2020 season into hiatus, but now after 2 months of will they, won't they, the NRL is back with Round 3 starting next Thursday.

This also means that I'm back.
I will be writing reviews of all the Warriors games, but I thought before the season starts back up again, I would make a little season restart piece. Kind of like a season preview V2.0 going over the recent news and developments, the new draw and how I think the Warriors will go.
So here we go again.

Hit the Reset Button: 2020 Season take two.

Unlike when I was writing my season preview earlier in the year, I am genuinely looking forward to the season starting up again. 
Yes, there will be no crowds, and quite possibly no games played on NZ soil. Still, the Road Warriors story intrigues me, depending on how the Warriors players approach this situation it could either grow them as a unit or make them implode.
I'm hoping for the former rather than the latter as if the Warriors can have some success this season it will be a hell of a story.

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The biggest concern for the Warriors camp has been injuries with three new injuries happening just before the season restarts.
Leeson Ah Mau, Jazz Tevaga and Adam Keighran join Gerard Beale, Nathaniel Roache, Taane Milne, Jackson Frei and Bunty Afoa in the casualty ward with the majority out for the season.
7 out of 8 of these injuries are knee-related, and I'm not sure if that points to an issue with the teams training or if it's just plum lousy luck, but while the Warriors are confined within the Australian border, they cannot afford to lose any more players.

The NRL has approved the use of loan players for this side which will be extremely helpful, and they have already signed a player for this season (more on that below). 
It will be interesting in the next few days to see who the Warriors target in this loan scheme, as there is some excellent talent that is potentially looking at zero football until next season so this can be a win-win for both parties.

Retired players like Sam Thaiday and Paul Gallen have put their hands up to play for the Warriors, and that's great; however, I would like to see the Warriors give some fringe players the opportunity instead. Who's to say that some young players from other clubs join the Warriors for 2020 and love what they see and become new signings once their current deals expire.
It could be pie in the sky thinking, but this is an unprecedented situation so who really knows what could come from this loan player situation.

Speaking on signings, there have been recent developments on that front.

Signings: Forwards get a boost

Eliesa Katoa has re-signed until 2024 in what has been a great move by the club, Katoa's start to 2020 has been impressive, and he screams potential. He still has plenty to learn, and with experienced players like Tohu Harris to learn from I see big things coming for Katoa for 2020 and beyond.

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In the first two rounds of this season, the Warriors lacked a lot of punch up the middle, and this lead to the Warriors attack lacking any real sting. Unless the forwards start making a dent, then the Warriors are going to continue the poor results we saw in the first two rounds.

Help has come in the form of Canberra Raider front-rower Jack Murchie who has signed for the 2020 season as a replacement player and adds much-needed size to the Warriors engine room.
There were rumblings in the preseason that the Warriors were looking at signing Murchie for the 2021 season, so there may be a chance that he extends his time with the Warriors. But as of writing, he is only with the club for this year.
I'm looking forward to seeing how he goes, I haven't seen much of his game footage but have heard good things, and I'm sure he will be out to prove himself.

There is also news that the Warriors have signed Sharks forward Toby Rudolf on a three-year deal starting in 2021.
There still has been no official word from the club on this signing, but it appears to be a done deal.
Much like Murchie I haven't seen much of Rudolf but know that the Sharks were interested in keeping him long term so I will be keeping a closer eye on him for the remainder of the 2020 season.

With Ben Murdoch-Masila already on the books for 2021, the Warriors have already improved their forward pack. If Rudolf and possibly Murchie are added to the forwards, then the Warriors may actually have a large pack like the Australian commentators always love to say and that should help the Warriors attack finally click into second gear.

2020 Draw

The NRL had to make some tweaks to the 2020 draw, and this resulted in the Warriors playing a lot more Friday Football than usual.

Including the first two rounds, the teams the Warriors have to face twice are the Knights, Raiders, Panthers, Sharks and Sea Eagles.

The 2020 draw was tough for the Warriors before the season was put on hold and it hasn't got any easier, and after starting the season 0-2, they need to lock in some back to back victories as soon as possible.
On a positive note due to the current restrictions, the Warriors travel numbers have come down considerably.

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Round three sees the Warriors face the Dragons at the Warriors adopted home ground the Central Coast Stadium on the Gold Coast.
David Fusitu'a is not available due to still being in quarantine so I would bring Gerard Beale onto the wing and move Patrick Herbert into the centres.
I still believe that the Warriors should partner Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita in the halves as Blake Green continues to be an anchor, dragging the Warriors attack down.
On paper, I think the team I have selected below is a capable side that has plenty of attacking potential, but I don't believe Stephen Kearney will go with my choices anyway.

My new Season Prediction

In my original prediction, I had the Warriors finishing 12th. After the first two rounds and the current injury situation, I think the Warriors are going to have a rough time.
I feel like the team will bond during this trying time but if they continue to lose matches by 30-40 points like the did against the Knights and Raiders then morale will be at an all-time low, and it will be hard for the Warriors to get it back.

From what we have seen so far the Warriors attack is lacking severely with the only try scored so far being a penalty try. 
Unless the Warriors attack improves, it is going to be a long season.
Due to that, I am changing my prediction to 13th. The Warriors lack direction on attack, and I believe they will suffer for it.
I have my fingers crossed that I'm wrong and that the Warriors we see in Round 3 are markedly improved from the side we saw in March.

I look forward to the season coming back and writing more often and hopefully, the Warriors give me something good to write about.
If you like what I'm doing here, please share my blog around with your friends and leave comments telling me how you think the seasons going.
I've been kept on as the Warriors correspondent for for this restarted season. So please show them some love by checking out my articles on their site each week too.

So that's my take on the Warriors for this take two of the 2020 season, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

1. Are you looking forward to the season coming back? 
2. What are your thoughts on Jack Murchie's signing?
3. Do you have any other loan players you would target for this season?
4. Where do you think the Warriors will finish in 2020?

Monday, 23 March 2020

NZ Warriors Round 2 Review: Warriors woes continue on the GC

After their poor round 1 effort, the Warriors made their way to their makeshift home ground in the Gold Coast to face the 2019 grand finalist Canberra Raiders.
After their decision to stay in Australia for as long as was required, the Warriors received a lot of love and fanfare on both sides of the Tasman. However, it didn't help them on gameday as the Raiders cruised to a 20-6 victory that left the Warriors with more questions than answers.

I came into this match expecting very little and walked away, feeling I got what I expected.
The Warriors looked to be in the fight for a lot of the first half, but the Raiders appeared to be sluggish, and the Warriors weren't good enough to capitalise.
Honestly, I'm not sure what the Warriors can do to turn 2020 around. Being away from family for an unknown length of time would be a tough situation that many people would struggle and will no doubt be taking a toll on the side, but that is not an excuse for what they offered on Saturday.
If the season does continue on during this crisis, then Stephen Kearney and his players need to make changes now.

Much like last week, there wasn't much to praise, but I had a few highlights which leads me to my positives from the match.

After a terrible display of discipline in Round 1, the Warriors did at least reduce their penalty count, this is a welcome sign as the Warriors continue to struggle on attack and defence and any piggyback they give the opposition will undoubtedly lead to a long day at the office.

I thought Adam Keighran had a strong game and showed some spark when on attack. The Warriors need more of that, so if he is not going to continue to play centre for the Warriors, they need to move him into the halves to give the Warriors someone who will keep the opposing defence guessing.

There was plenty to be concerned with, however, which leads me to my negatives from the game.

While the penalties were down the errors went up, in dry conditions, it is unacceptable to make 13 errors, especially when so many of them were schoolboy errors. Much like the penalties above, the Warriors are currently not a good enough side to let their opponents off the hook with unforced errors, increase the accuracy and it makes it easier to get the victory.

That win will be a long way away; however, if the Warriors attack does not improve.
All the talk of this new gameplan, unleashing the Warriors second phase has not developed into anything on the field. It is the same one out hit ups that have been a staple of the Warriors campaigns since Stephen Kearneys time as coach started.
The halves do not appear to be on the same page and this, in turn, makes the backline appear disorganised, the forwards aren't bending the defensive line or offloading. It makes for a very dull and ineffective attacking platform. If the Warriors are going to continue to suffer defeats at least go down swinging.

My last negative is the missed tackles, the Warriors missed 46 tackles in this match, and if you do that against any team in the NRL, you are going to get punished.
Defence is all about attitude and having trust in your teammates, so on a positive note, hopefully, this team spent isolated in Australia will help develop that much-needed trust.

There is plenty to work on, but with some positional changes and attitude adjustments, the Warriors may be able to get themselves into the winners circle sooner rather than later.

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My player of the day once again goes to Eliesa Katoa.
After a strong debut, Katoa was rewarded with a position in the starting line up, and he did not disappoint. Running for 157 metres, including 4 tackle breaks, an offload and 27 tackles, if I was to nitpick, I would point out his 4 missed tackles, but that was the only blemish on what was a strong second outing for the rookie.
2020 will most likely be a disappointment for Warriors fans, but the emergence of Katoa should at least have fans hopeful for the future.

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My player to improve goes to 2019 regular nominee Adam Blair.
Plenty of players in the side had poor performances, but Blair just made too many errors for my liking. Changes need to be made in this side, and players like Blair appear to be blocking the way for some talented youngsters that the Warriors have in their second-row stocks. I would look to be using Blair in the front row for the remainder of the season where the Warriors have some depth issues currently and let the talented youngsters like Katoa and Joshua Curran flourish with more game time.

Currently, the NRL plans to proceed with round 3 which would see the Warriors face the Manly Sea Eagles at Lottoland in Sydney.
The venue may very well change depending on the Coronavirus situation, but the Sea Eagles will be coming in as hot favourites after their win over the Roosters.
Manly looked good against the reigning premiers and will be a mighty task for the Warriors to face and unfortunately, I don't see the Warriors walking away with their first win in 2020, and I'm predicting a 20 point victory for the Sea Eagles.

So that was a poor Round 2, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

How do the Warriors start to turn their season around?
Who was your player of the match?
With the talks of loan players currently, which unsigned/reserve grade player would you grab?
What is your score prediction for the Manly clash?

Monday, 16 March 2020

NZ Warriors Round 1 Review : Warriors embarrassed in Newcastle shutout

The NRL is back, and despite cancellation fears, the Warriors made the way to McDonald Jones Stadium to face the Newcastle Knights.
Widely written off as playoff contenders, the Warriors needed to deliver a strong performance to prove the doubters wrong, but the 20-0 defeat left plenty for the Warriors fans to worry about.

I have been writing these reviews regularly for the past four years, and I don't recall the last time I felt this demotivated to write a review, so this may not be a long one.
What a disappointing performance from the Warriors, despite the poor preseason I still expected more from the side, but they barely fired a shot.
The Knights were not amazing by any means, but Warriors gifted them far too many opportunities while also not being able to create any scoring chances for themselves.

Work needs to be done by the coaching staff and the team alike if they are to have any chance to turn the season around. That is if the season actually continues for much longer but more on that later.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, which leads me to my positives from the match.

I don't have really have any, to be honest, in fact, I only have one. The debutants out in strong performances, in particular Eliesa Katoa and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown.
Both players took their chance with both hands and did themselves proud. The senior members of the squad need to take a page out of the youngster's book if the Warriors want to get some points on the board.

That was all I could really highlight as positive this week as there was a lot more to be concerned about, which leads me to my negatives.

Penalties, penalties, penalties! The Warriors conceded 13 penalties by the time the final whistle blew and over half of them were easily avoidable.
The Warriors had the same issue in 2019, and if they don't bring some discipline into their game, then you can expect plenty more losses in the foreseeable future.

The forward pack was mostly terrible with the majority of the pack barely making a dent in the Knights defensive line and making poor defensive reads. League is a simple game, and your success is built on the foundation that your forward pack sets and the current crop are not getting it done.
I would be moving the pack around, get Adam Blair into the front row, Tohu Harris and Katoa into the second row and drop Isaiah Papali'i. Kearney was hesitant to make changes last season, but with his job, on the line, he needs to make the big calls with his gameday squad selections.

The Warriors attack was almost no existent. Despite word out of the preseason that the Warriors were going to be more adventurous with the ball in hand, the fans got to watch the same predictable style of play from 2019. Grubbers towards the goalposts are not the only option, take advantage of the new rules and kick to the corners, just try something new.

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My player of the match goes to Eliesa Katoa.
Katoa showed promise in his outings in the trials, but I wasn't convinced he would be able to replicate that form into the regular season, so I didn't pick him in my gameday 17, but I was happy to be proven wrong.
He ran the ball hard and had the most metres of any Warriors forward with 144, had 2 offloads and 19 tackles with only one missed tackle, not a bad effort from the youngster.
If the rest of the forward pack could match his heart and passion, then the Warriors forward pack could really turn a corner.
He has more than earned his spot in the squad and should be in talks to become a first-grade regular.

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My player to improve goes to Blake Green.
Blake, thank you for your service, but it is time to call it a day.
Having Green out on the paddock is proving to be more of a hindrance than it is worth.
He did manage a 40/20, but besides that, the experienced half offered very little and continued to make schoolboy errors and poor attacking options.
If Green continues to be tasked with steering the ship, then the Warriors will continue to sink, bring in Kodi Nikorima or Adam Keighran into the halves and let them build a partnership for the future with Chanel Harris-Tavita.

Round 2 was meant to see the Warriors host the Canberra Raiders at Eden Park, however with the Coronavirus restricting travel, the Warriors have relocated to the Gold Coast and will be playing there.
The Raiders looked strong in there Round 1 win and are going to be a tremendous challenge for the Warriors who will have some personnel changes after Patrick Herbert and Peta Hiku elected to return home.
I think the Raiders are going to be too strong for the Warriors and I'm predicting the Raiders to win by 16.

Since I started writing, I have never encountered anything like what is currently happening with the Coronavirus. It is crazy, and sports competitions around the world have already gone on hiatus until further notice.
The NRL has elected to push forward with Round 2, but we have no clue if Round 3 will continue as planned or if the season will go on hold.
If the season goes on the Warriors will have to stay in Australia long term, and I just don't see that working out, one positive is that this situation could unify the squad and perhaps lead to better performances.
However, being away from their families for however long could have a detrimental effect on the players too, as well as if the Warriors injury form continues they would be unable to send any more players over to fill in.
Cameron George has spoken about the potential that the Warriors may not get to play on home soil this season which would be devastating for the club and fans alike, but everyone just has to wait and see what unfolds in the upcoming days/weeks.
Personally, I think the NRL will cease the competition before we get to round 4 but time will tell.

So that was a disappointing Round 1, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Do you have any positives from this match?
What changes would you make to the squad?
How long do you think the season will continue before the NRL is forced to put the season or hold or cancel altogether?
What is your score prediction against the Raiders?