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Monday, 3 August 2020

NZ Warriors Round 12 Review: Warriors hold off late Tigers surge in upset victory

After last weeks valiant but unsuccessful effort against the Roosters, the Warriors made the trip to the Sydney Cricket Ground to face the Wests Tigers.
Interim coach Todd Payten stated that last weeks performance was to be the Warriors base level and despite a slow start and dicey finish, the Warriors put on a great display to defeat the Tigers 26-20 

I had hope that the Warriors would build on last weeks performance, but I can admit I was a bit concerned when the Tigers scored two tries in the first 12 minutes. My heart sank as I thought the Warriors were going back to their good game, bad game routine. 
However, the Warriors didn't drop their heads. They kept themselves in the hunt with an improved effort by their forward pack which allowed Karl Lawton to have a field day in the ruck area and gave the backline plenty of opportunities which they actually took advantage of more than we have come to expect in 2020.
New loan players George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro had decent debuts for the club without setting the world on fire, which is fine considering the limited game time they have had this year. I think we will see Jennings add plenty of spark to the left edge attack once he develops some chemistry with Peta Hiku, as in this match they just seemed to not be in sync with each other just yet.
Alvaro offers some much-needed experience to the pack, and I expect to see his minutes increase in the upcoming weeks as his match fitness returns.

I feel like this performance adds another feather to Todd Paytens cap and I would be perfectly happy to see the Warriors give him the gig fulltime.
As I said last week, I appreciate his communication and the players appear to be responding to him. 
I know some people want an experienced coach to come in and take over, but if the team is buying into Payten, why not let it play out.

This side appears to be building something special, again I feel like a top-eight finish was gone a long time ago. I feel like the Warriors are going to be more enjoyable to watch for the remainder of the season than I originally anticipated.

There was plenty to smile about in this performance, which leads me to my positives from the game.

The Forwards had a great night with 5 of the pack running for over 100 metres, with Tohu Harris leading from the front with 181 metres.
For years the biggest issue with the Warriors has been the forward pack's inability to dominate the middle, and I think this year has been a step in the right direction especially considering the Warriors have been without Bunty Afoa, Leeson Ah Mau all year.
Jamayne Taunoa-Brown is developing nicely and will be a constant inclusion in the Warriors prop rotation for years to come.
Eliesa Katoa is a bonafide superstar in the making that has not out a foot wring since his debut this season.
And last but not least Jack Hetherington had another strong outing, he spent some time in the second row and looked dangerous on the edge, Warriors, please do whatever you can to keep this man. I think the Panthers would be crazy to let him go but fingers crossed.

The fightback this side showed after being down 8-0 early was encouraging but what impressed me more was the effort the team showed in stopping the Tigers from snatching a last-minute victory.
After the fast start, the Warriors were able to play some smart football and force the Tigers to continually play out of their own red zone, much like what the Roosters did to the Warriors last week.
But it looked like the Warriors got a bit complacent after getting the lead and the Tigers closed the gap, we have seen Warriors sides capitulate in situations like this before, but they kept their defensive pressure up and forced the Tigers to make mistakes preventing a heartbreaking ending.
I think this shows an improved attitude and self-belief that this side has built during what has been a challenging year, some mental toughness has been sorely needed, and this should only mean good things for the Warriors 2021 campaign.

The shackles appear to have been permanently removed with the offloads coming back in abundance.
The Warriors unleashed 18 offloads in this match with Jazz Tevaga leading the team with 6.
This team is a very dangerous side when they are frequently utilising second-phase football.
If they can continue to utilise the offloads more often and get players like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Kodi Nikorima running off the shoulders of their forward pack. If they can get those faster players into open space will create plenty of scoring opportunities which would put the Warriors in good stead to notch up some more wins.

My last positive was Kodi Nikorima, I thought he had a great game, and it's no secret that the Warriors are at their best when Nikorima engages the defensive line.
During the week the Warriors highlighted the need for Nikorima to get more involved, even going as far as putting money the line if he could double he run total from last week (Nikorima failed, unfortunately, running 15 times when he needed to hit 16).
His kicking game improved this week but is still well behind where he needs it to be, the Warriors need him to continue playing this attacking style and find him a game manager half to partner up with, and I think you will see his performances improve tenfold.

The performance wasn't perfect; however, which leads me to my negatives from the game.

Every week I go on about it, but the Warriors missed tackles, they were above their average this week missing 35. If they want to be a legitimate playoff contender, they need to reduce this by at least 10.
The Warriors at least have some decent scrambling defence which helps keep them in the hunt, but if they don't improve their first up defence, then they will find themselves on the losing side more often then not.

Another ongoing issue is the Warriors ruck infringements, they only had 6 in this match, but that is 6 extra sets that they gifted the Tigers. The six-again rule has changed the landscape of the NRL, and all teams are adjusting, but the Warriors appear to give away new sets a bit more than some of the other clubs.
Cutting this down will help the Warriors starve the opposition of the ball and the less time they have to defend the more likely they can end the match as victors.

My last negative is the Warriors penalty count, they were penalised 9 times in this match, and much like the above comment, that is just handing the Tigers the ball another 9 times. I thought the Warriors were hard done by on a few calls, but they still need to take some responsibility and play to the whistle.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warrior of the match goes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Much like last week, it was hard to pick just one player for this weeks award, with Lawton, Nikorima and Harris all being just as deserving to be picked but I had to go with the Skipper.
An early error from RTS was the only blemish on his night, but he bounced back to end the match with 279 running metres, 7 tackle breaks, 2 offloads and 2 nice little kicks that resulted in repeat sets.
This is what I enjoyed most from RTS, we all know he can run and gun with the best in the NRL, but the Warriors need him to step up and offer some dimension to their attack and adding a kicking game to his arsenal is a surefire way to do this.
He doesn't need to do it a lot, but if he sees an opportunity to force a repeat set or kick through for one of his centres or wingers to score with a nice little kick, then it only strengthens the Warriors attacking threat.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warrior to improve goes to Adam Blair.
I almost didn't pick a player to improve this week as I thought all the players contributed to the final result, but in the end, I decided to pick Blair.
Todd Payten has been critical of Blair's performances lately, and he hasn't really responded in the way we would have hoped.
I thought Blair started the year strong, however, in the past few weeks, the younger forwards have really shown how far off the pace he is right now.
He only had a limited run of 29 minutes and made 20 tackles, but his 54 running metres from 6 runs and 2 penalties bring down his efforts.
I like having Blair used as a front-rower only, but right now there are players performing better than he is and I would not be surprised if he was dropped for a week or two if his work rate doesn't increase.

Round 13 sees the Warriors head to Lottoland for another dose of Friday night football to face the Sea Eagles. Manly have had some good performances despite playing without their star fullback Tom Trbojevic but were soundly defeated in round 12 by the impressive Penrith Panthers.
The Sea Eagles will be hurting from this result and will be looking at making a statement as they continue to try to claw their way into the top eight.
I expect the Warriors to name the same 17 that played in round 12 and I think they have shown that they are tough enough to get results against the team around them on the table.
With that in mind, I'm predicting the Warriors walk away with the win here in a close-fought contest, so I'm going with a Warriors win by 8.

So that was a better Round 12, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Do you think the Warriors can string some wins together?
What were your thoughts on the new loan players first hit out?
Who was your player of the day?
What is your score prediction for the Sea Eagles clash?

Monday, 27 July 2020

NZ Warriors Round 11 Review: Close but no cigar has Roosters down Warriors

After last weeks lacklustre performance against the Sharks, the Warriors played hosts to the reigning premier Sydney Roosters.
For the second week in a row, I correctly picked the outcome while being miles off on the margin as the Warriors were narrowly defeated 18-10.

I said last week that you need to be physical and play for 80 minutes if you want to defeat the Roosters and although the Warriors brought the physicality they were unable to keep it up for the entire match.
Within the first few minutes, you could see that the Warriors attitude had improved and their aggressive style put pressure on the Roosters which forced uncharacteristic errors that and the Warriors were able to take advantage and score some points.
The Warriors looked better on attack than they have for a while, they did not pile on points but with the forwards bending the line and Karl Lawton adding some speed to the ruck, the Warriors looked more threatening with the ball in hand.
I would be keeping Lawton as the starting hooker, he needs to work on his passing a bit though, in the final quarter of the match his wayward passes did not help when the Warriors were trying to get back into the match.
The ingredients are there for this side to be competitive and make me hopeful that the second half of the 2020 season will not be as dour as I originally thought it would be.

I was happy with this performance but I was even more impressed with the response from Todd Payten and the players. Payten praised the performance but acknowledged that it was still a loss and should be not be celebrated, his direct quote was "Close enough is not good enough" and it is was great to hear.
He wants this match to be the line in the sand for this side, to build on this effort for the remainder of the season, hopefully, add some more wins and earn some respect from teams and fans alike.
Each week Payten is growing on me more and more, he is transparent with the media, honest about the performances of the team and individuals within the team and more importantly, is not afraid to make changes to his squad.
With no decision being made on who the Warriors 2021 coach will be and from what I have seen so far, I would have no issues with Payten being given the gig, especially with the Warriors rebuilding next year, I would love to see how he would go with a team and gameplan of his own design.

The loss of Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu'a and Agnatius Paasi is huge but the Warriors now have George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro on loan from the Eels for four weeks, they also have had the loan deal of Jack Hetherington extended.
All three players should be named in this weeks 17 and if the performance of the previous loan players is anything to go by, I think the Eels duo will help keep the Warriors competitive.

There is still plenty to work on, but it's a step in the right direction, which leads me to my positives from the game.

The Warriors physicality was great to watch, I said the forwards were bullied in the loss against the Sharks and they did not allow that to happen again.
I think the biggest highlight of this newfound aggression was the battle between Hetherington and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, the young loan prop was after Hargreaves all night and in my opinion, got the upper hand on him.
Many have spoken about Hargreaves refusing to shake hands with the youngster at the end of the match, I'm not sure why he did it but it wasn't a good look for the experienced forward but it's great that the Warriors have a player that can get under the skin of the opposition without giving away a stack of penalties.
I still hope the Warriors can find a way to keep hold of Hetherington long term but with how he has been performing it would be hard to see Penrith releasing him from his contract.

The Warriors defence, for the most part, was alot better this week. The Roosters have the ability to break open defences and had me worried often but the Warriors were able to scramble and shut them down.
The standout moments were the try-saving tackles by Tohu Harris and Jazz Tevaga, without their efforts in those plays the Roosters would have been certain to score and perhaps go on to win by a blowout.

The Warriors attack was quicker, thanks in large part to Lawtons quick service out of the ruck and this allowed the halves and backline to try things.
This year the Warriors have been guilty too often of playing one-out football and lacking any real attack spark.
In this match they weren't afraid to try things, Blake Green kicked early in the tackle count twice, one could have been 40/20 and the other was a chip intended for David Fustiu'a. Unfortunately the bounce of the ball didn't go the Warriors way on either attempt but it was good to see the Warriors chancing their arm a bit.

There are still issues; however, which leads me to my negatives from the game.

It kind of goes against what I just said above but the Warriors were hurt by their errors. Chancing your arm and trying to play a more attacking style generally leads to an increase in errors but 14 was too high, they need to look at reducing their error rate down to single digits.
They had chances near the Roosters line to score but dropped the ball cold, had those stuck we could have been talking about a Warriors win today.

As I have been discussing all year, the Warriors need to improve their missed tackles.
I praised the defence in this match but most of it was scrambling defence after an easy miss, you could also argue that the Roosters match-winning try would not have been scored if the Warriors first up defence was up to par. This team consistently hits at least 30 missed tackles a game and that is not going to help any side get a victory.

My last negative is the Warriors lack of points in the second half. I think the Warriors were the better side in the first half but the Roosters dominated the territory in the second half and gave the Warriors very little chances to increase their lead and then try to reclaim it.'
The Roosters are a classy side and forced the Warriors to play inside their own half for the majority of that second half and that ultimately was the deciding factor in this match.

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My Warrior of the match goes to Eliesa Katoa.
This was hard this week, I was split on Katoa, Lawton and Hetherington but I had to go with the Warriors rookie sensation.
Katoa had another strong showing, tapping back Green's kick which lead to Maumalo's try as well as displaying great strength when he scored himself.
His contribution on attack makes the Warriors left edge very potent but what impressed me more was his effort on defence, he was one of the scrambling defenders that were always there to clean up any poor defensive reads by his teammates.
The Warriors have a genuine superstar in the making with Katoa and I look forward to watching him develop.

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My Warrior to improve goes to Kodi Nikorima.
Again this was almost as hard as the Warrior of the match decision.
I thought most of the Warriors played well but I have gone with Nikorima just down to hi dropping the ball cold twice when the Warriors were in the Roosters RedZone.
It wasn't much but as one of the more potent attacking weapons the Warriors have, they need him to show the ball more respect and keep hold of it.
However, it was good to see him engage the line a bit more.

Round 12 sees the Warriors return to Friday night football, travelling to the Sydney Cricket Ground to face the Wests Tigers.
The Tigers will be hurting from their loss in Round 11 against the Eels and will be looking at getting back into the winner's circle.
The Warriors lose plenty of impact with Maumalo and Fusitu'a and I assume that George Jennings and Adam Pompey will be in the mix for the wing spots (unless Patrick Herbert moves to the wing and Pompey stays in the centres).
It will be a tough ask but if the Warriors play with the same pressure and aggression they displayed in Round 11, then they give themselves a legitimate shot at walking away with the much needed two points.
Unfortunately I don't see the Warriors getting the win here, they just lack they strike power needed to get past the Tigers strong defence so I'm predicted the Tigers to win by 14.

So that was an improved Round 11, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Do you think the Warriors can build on this performance?
Who would you bring onto the wings for the rest of the season?
Who was your player of the day?
What is your score prediction for the Tigers clash?

Monday, 20 July 2020

NZ Warriors Round 10 Review: Sharks punish lacklustre Warriors

After a disappointing loss to the Titans in round 9, the Warriors returned to their makeshift home on the Central Coast to face the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks.
I predicted the Warriors to lose their first match at Central Coast Stadium this round, and while I was correct with that prediction I was way off on the margin as the Warriors were soundly defeated 46-10.

Well, Todd Payten called this match the Warriors worst performance of the year and I think it would be hard to disagree.
Watching this match was deflating, It never really felt like the Warriors had what it took to get across the line and it was frustrating.
It only took the Sharks 3 minutes to score their first of 8 tries and simply put it was down to some poor defence from the Warriors.
Despite not playing well, the Warriors had a chance to level it up after some great work by David Fusitu'a but a Patrick Herbert knock-on over the line broke fans hearts and after that, it was pretty much all one-way traffic and the Warriors offer very little to give the fans watching at home any glimmer of hope that they would get themselves into the contest.

Tohu Harris said the Warriors were soft in this performance and with the exception of a select few, you could see that.
I don't like questioning the heart of the players but it looked like they were watching the clock and just waiting for the night to be over, I really hope this isn't the case as they are only at the halfway point of the season and there is still plenty of football to be played.
I know it can't be easy being stuck across the ditch but if they start delivering performances like this regularly them it is only going to get worst for them.

Now there wasn't much to praise, but there was one, which leads me to my positive from the match.

I thought the young forwards performed well in a pack that was outmuscled for the majority of the game. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Jack Hetherington, Karl Lawton and Eliesa Katoa all stood up and played good but not great. I'm confident that these younger players will only get better as the year goes on and in 2021 the Warriors should have a decent forward pack.

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

The Warriors had very little trouble getting down the field but the closer they got to the Sharks line, the worst they got. Their last tackle options left plenty to be desired and it still appears that they are getting lost when trying to score points.
It should not be that hard especially when you have try-scoring machines on both your wings, Todd Payten either needs to update his offensive gameplan or make changes to his team.

The Warriors error rate was too high once again with 14 errors by the time the final whistle blew. I did like that the Warriors were trying to create some second phase football and some of the errors came from them trying things but there were also plenty of times when they just dropped the ball or forced a pass when nothing was on.
Confidence is a big part of playing an expansive style and that is something the Warriors seriously lack but their try in the final minutes showed exactly what they should be doing more of, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is the Warriors most potent attacking weapon and he should be running that inside channel ready for an offload, if he hits a ball from that line the Warriors will be able to open up the opposition defence.

The Warriors did themselves no favours on defence missing 37 tackles, at times they made some great defensive plays with my highlight being Agnatius Paasi's hit on Toby Rudolf but unfortunately those great plays are few and far between. Defence comes down to technique, confidence and trust that the men besides you are going to do their job and I feel like the Warriors are failing on all three right now. The technique can be improved quickly but that confidence and trust takes time and I unsure if the Warriors will get that right before the end of the season.

I talked about it last week but the Warriors continue to struggle with defending the ball in their in-goal area.
Shaun Johnson should never have scored his try, I know it's a split decision when that ball is bouncing around behind the try line but the Warriors opposition consistently ensure that ball is out of play, if it looks certain to be going dead they leave it alone but if it's a 50/50 ball they ground it or force it out electing to defend for another set.
This may be down to the Warriors lack of confidence in their own goalline defence but regardless this ploy of their is not working and makes them look laughably inept and they need to stop it immediately.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warrior of the match goes to Jack Hetherington.
In his short spell as a Warrior, I have grown a soft spot for the Penrith forward. In a match where the players appeared to not want to be there or just going with the motions, Hetherington was giving it his all and played with aggression and genuinely looked upset with himself when he made an error. 
Yes, he made a few errors and was put on report (an early guilty plea will see him escape suspension) but his heart and effort made up for it.
My biggest concern right now is that two of the Warriors better-performing players have been the loan players which speaks volumes in how the Warriors have not prepared correctly, or to put it more bluntly have not got the talent required to be competitive in the NRL.
I keep harping on about it and I'm not going stop today, the Warriors need to do everything they can to keep Hetherington on their books long term. Fan's always say the Warriors need a tough Aussie forward in their pack and Jack fits the bill.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warrior to improve goes to Peta Hiku.
This was a toss-up between Hiku and Patrick Herbert, but since Herbert went off for an HIA and didn't play the whole match, I have ruled him out.
With talks of a Warrior's cleanout, Hiku really picked the wrong night to have an off night.
You come to expect some defensive issues with Hiku but his poor defensive reads in this match made him a liability and while he normally offsets that with his attack, he offered very little on attack.
Instead of trying to put Ken Maumalo into scoring opportunities, Hiku continually drifted towards the edges and took away all the space Maumalo would normally have to do what he does best.
With Maumalo and David Fusitu'a leaving after round 11's match, the Warriors need Hiku to step up and help this backline score points and if he doesn't turn it around soon, he most likely will be on his way to the Super League.

Round 11 sees the Warriors host a Sydney Roosters team hurting from their defeat to the Canberra Raiders.
This match worries me and is the start of a brutal run of games for the Warriors that could be a very rough month for the fans to sit through.
This is the last match for Maumalo, Fustitu'a and Agnatius Paasi and I hope that they give it everything they have in their last match for the year (unless something happens to bring them back into the fold).
The Raiders showed that if you want to defeat the reigning premiers, you need to be physical and play for 80 minutes. If you take your foot off the gas against the Roosters then you will be in trouble.
As much as I would like to see a Warriors win here, I just can't see it happening so I'm predicting the Roosters to win by 30. 

So that was a deflating Round 10, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

What changes you would make to the game day 17?
Do you see the Warriors getting any more wins in 2020?
Who was your player of the day?
What is your score prediction for the Roosters clash?