Monday, 3 May 2021

NZ Warriors Round 8 Review: Warriors cling to victory after strong start almost undone

After Round seven's disappointing performance against the Storm, the Warriors returned to their adopted home on the Central Coast to face a Cowboys side on a three-match winning streak.
The Warriors were still missing several key players. Still, all eyes were on rookie Reece Walsh's first stint at five-eighth, and he delivered plenty of highlights as the Warriors held back a second-half comeback attempt from North Queensland to walk away with a 24-20 victory.

Man, what an exciting game; I predicted a win here, but it was a bit too close for my liking; the last 20 minutes of this match had me on the edge of my seat, just waiting for either side to make the match-winning play.
Reece Walsh shone once again in this match, playing a large part in the Warriors attack, with the home side scoring three tries in the first 18 minutes through Kodi Nikorima, Rocco Berry and Ben Murdoch-Masila. The Cowboys keep themselves in the match when in the 32nd minute when Reece Robson threw the mother of all dummies, fooling Jazz Tevaga as he crossed the try-line untouched. Walsh was at it again; minutes later, he put Josh Curran through a hole before the second-rower flicked the ball to Adam Pompey to score under the posts in the last scoring play of the first half, giving the Warriors a decent 24-4 lead. The Cowboys switched up their game plan and started to target the inexperienced edge of Berry and debutant Edward Kosi. It reaped rewards with Murray Taulagi and Scott Drinkwater scoring down that side in the 46th and 48th minute, making Warriors fans nervous as the Warriors looked to be letting this game slip. The Warriors appeared to have scored a fantastic try when Walsh ran on the last tackle, but the Bunker denied them, advising that the ball hit Curran’s shoulder and travelled forward. Both sides struggled to get the upper hand, with both sides letting themselves down with errors and poor discipline. A Tohu Harris offload to Walsh saw the exciting youngster burst into open space before he slipped over and then knocked the ball on after Valentine Holmes cleaned him up. North Queensland’s next set saw them surge up the field before the game was halted when Murdoch-Masila came off second best in a collision with Jason Taumalolo; once the match resumed, the Cowboys didn’t take long to score with Taulagi crossing over again in the corner to reduce the New Zealand sides lead to four. Momentum was heavily in the Cowboys favour as they made easy work of marching up the field and looked to be ready to score again before knocking the ball on but were given a penalty after Pompey was deemed offside. However, North Queensland failed to capitalise on the field position, throwing a forward pass that let the Warriors off the hook. The New Zealand side let themselves down again when Bayley Sironen lost control of the ball when attempting to play it, but the Cowboys also made the same error a few tackles later. The Warriors were given a penalty that gave them their first set inside North Queensland’s half for roughly 15 minutes, but Curran fumbled his attempt to pick up a Walsh grubber. Time was running out for the Cowboys, and they made a last-ditch attempt to score points, but their hopes were dashed when Maumalo scooped up the ball and ran for 30 metres to end the match with the Warriors grimly holding on for a much-needed victory. 

I thought it was a cliche game of two halves; the Warriors dominated the first half and then let the Cowboys back into the match in the second. The team has enough talent to succeed, and with several players set to return in the next few weeks and some winnable matchups, I think the Warriors can cement themselves in the top eight.

Despite the less than stellar second half, a few things left a smile on my face, which leads me to my positives from the match.

Match Positives

That first half was fantastic, with the Warriors putting on a show taking full advantage of a slow Cowboys defensive line. The Warriors ended the match with 7 linebreaks, 30 tackle-breaks and 17 offloads. Every player in the backline managed to run for over 100 metres, and it was great to see the Warriors play a confident attacking style. They just need to stay in that mode for the entire match.

The rookies shone once again, Walsh was on fire (more on him below), and I like Rocco Berry and thought he had another good showing. The Warriors also handed young winger Edward Kosi a debut. I thought that he had a decent outing, the Cowboys started to target him and Berry in the second half, and their inexperience showed leaking some points, but these three are going to do great things for the Warriors once they get some more game-time under their belts.

The lineup was correct this week; in my review last week, I said I wanted Nathan Brown to move Walsh into the halves and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck back into Fullback, and he did it, and the Warriors attack was all the better for it. It added a new dimension to the Warriors attack, and RTS could inject himself into the attack at will. I love this new lineup and hope that Brown keeps it this week.

Lastly, the Warriors' defence only missed 13 tackles in this match, which is a great improvement; the stats can be a bit deceiving as the Warriors didn't have to defend too much in the first half. They will be disappointed in their defensive effort sliding a bit in the second half, but they still showed enough energy when having to scramble, and with a tough matchup this week, they will need another strong defensive outing.

Some things concerned me, however, which leads to my negatives from the match.

Match Negatives

The second-half collapse was a bit of a concern, I'm not sure if it was just down to the Warriors coming into the second-half overconfident, taking the Cowboys lightly or if North Queensland just switched their gameplan and the Warriors were caught off-guard. Thankfully the Warriors did enough in the first half to survive, but they will do my heart some much-needed rest if they don't let their opposition back into the match.

The backs may have had a field day, but the forwards didn't deliver the same level of impact, only Kane Evans, Ben Murdoch-Masila, and Tohu Harris ran for over 100 metres, with Josh Curran just slightly behind them. The Warriors need a few more forwards to pull their weight to lighten the load of the backline and make things easier for the halves. BMM was a monster, though, and I hope he can play this week after leaving the field early.

The Warriors let themselves down with a lack of respect for the ball, making 12 errors; I will put an asterisk next to this as some of the errors came from the Warriors chancing their arm when trying to score points in the second-half and I have been quoted as saying that I would rather see the players try and fail instead of not trying anything. Just a little more respect for the ball will help keep my stress levels manageable.

Lastly, I was confused with Wayde Egan's role in this match. It may have just been me, but there were several patches in the game where he was not going into dummy-half, leaving it to Walsh, RTS and Nikorima. I'm not sure if this is a game plan to allow those quicker players to strike while the Cowboys were struggling to defend or if he is playing through an injury, but he just looked to be off the pace. There was no mention of it in the press conference, but I will keep an eye on it this week to see if it happens again.

Warrior of the game

Copyright Photo:
My Warrior of the game goes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
It was a great bounceback after last weeks outing; the skipper was back to his best, leading his side in run metres, making 225; he also made a linebreak, a try assist, 8 tackle-breaks and 3 offloads. He is an amazing talent, and although he is leaving at the end of the season and will be a massive loss but full credit to RTS for never giving anything less the 100%. He is getting heavily involved in the Warriors attack, and I think we will see the points start to flow when his combination with Walsh grows. I have all my fingers crossed that everything COVID related stays calm so the Warriors can bring some games back to Mount Smart so we can give him a proper sendoff.

Warrior to Improve

Copyright Photo:

While the second-half was dreadful, with many players having a shocking performance, I couldn't pick anyone to be my Warrior to improve; those who played badly in the last 40 did enough in the first 40 to get a pass mark.

So instead, I want to give a shout out to Reece Walsh, this kid just oozes talent, and in his first match at five-eighth, he was electric. It wasn't a perfect performance by any stretch, with the youngster making a few errors and made some poor decisions on the last tackle he was always trying, and he set up a nice try for BMM and had his hand in most of the Warriors big attacking plays. His kicking was great, and he has a hell of a bomb on him. I love him in the halves, and if he continues to play like this, I would be looking at keeping him there and moving someone else to fullback next season. I think Rocco Berry may be an option, but Scott Drinkwater may be on the outer with the Cowboys, and he could be a handy pickup. As long as Walsh is on the field, he will get himself involved, but it just my food for thought.

Next game's thoughts and predictions

Round 9 sees the Warriors travel to Lottoland to face the Sea Eagles. They played on a few weeks back when Manly got their first victory for the year, but since then, they have been putting together some great performances, including a decent showing against the Panthers in Round 8. This will be a tough game for the Warriors, and it will be no shock that the Warriors will need to keep Tommy Turbo quiet if they are to have a chance in this match.
I feel like the Warriors will use the same lineup, but we may see the return of Euan Aitken, which would help the Warriors defence on the edge. If the forwards can increase their impact and give Walsh and RTS some room to play football, they may get the job done; unfortunately, I think the Sea Eagles will be too strong, so I am picking Manly to win by 16.

So that was a stressful but exciting Round 8, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

What would you do with Walsh next season, Fullback or Five-Eighth?
Who was your player of the day?
Did you have a player to Improve?
What is your score prediction for the Sea Eagles clash?

Monday, 26 April 2021

NZ Warriors Round 7 Review: Hughes puts injury ravaged Warriors to sword but rookies show promise

After Round six's improved performance against the Dragons, the Warriors made the trip to AAMI Park to face the Storm in their annual Anzac day clash.
The Warriors came into this match with plenty of players in the casualty ward, leaving many fans, including myself, fearing for the worse but also excited to see the debuts of youngsters Rocco Berry and Reece Walsh. After looking competitive for the first ten minutes, the Storm ran away with a comprehensive 42-20 victory.

Well, I can't say I was surprised about the outcome here, the Storm has a long history of putting big scores on the Warriors on Anzac Day, and this match was no different. 
A try to former Warriors loan player George Jennings in the third minute got the scoring started before the Warriors responded in the seventh minute when Ken Maumalo scored from a nice cutout pass. The match was looking to be a tight tussle until the sin-binning of Josh Curran after the bunker controversially claimed that he made illegal contact to Jennings head. With a man down and inexperience players on the edge, the Storm made scoring look easy with Jahrome Hughes causing the Warriors plenty of issues, having a hand in four tries in quick succession via Felise Kaufusi, Nicho Hynes and a double by Reimis Smith, taking a 26-4 lead into the break. The Warriors attempted to make a contest the out of the match when Ben Murdoch-Masila barged his way over in the 43rd minute. This appeared to give the New Zealand side a second wind, with their attack looking more dangerous in patches. Still, it was their defence that let them down again, with the Storm continuing to score at will with Justin Olam running over Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the 51st minute before Josh Addo-Carr scored a double in the 64th and 67th minute to put the game beyond doubt. The Warriors attempted to end their night on a positive note, with Walsh setting up two more tries for Maumalo in the 73rd and 77th minute to hand the big winger the first hat-trick of his NRL career.

With so many players out of this match-up, I was already concerned, but then the news that Tohu Harris would miss the match had me all but write off the Warriors chances here. There were patches in this match where they looked good, making some good defensive plays and playing some positive football when on attack. However, whenever they weren't in one of those patches, the Storm made them pay. This match was always going to be a tough task, but the next month of football has four definitely winnable matches, so the future is not all doom and gloom, especially with some key players set to return in the next few weeks.

Despite the result, a few things left a smile on my face, which leads to my positives from the match.

Match Positives

The forwards didn't offer the same impact that we saw last week, but I was impressed with the performance of Ben Murdoch-Masila. He was relegated to the bench for this match but was strong when he got on the park, carrying multiple defenders with each carry and barging over for his third try of the year. With the injury to Addin Fonua-Blake, BMM is the guy in this pack that can make a dent in the defensive line, and the Warriors need to get him involved more.

I thought Reece Walsh and Rocco Berry had pretty good debuts. More on Walsh below, but Berry did not look out of place in the centres; he defended reasonably well, only missing one, and made a few nice runs ending the match with 90 metres. He hasn't played a lot of league but looks like a great prospect once he gets some games under his belt.

I liked the Warriors attack at times; in the patches where they decided to play expansive football, they took it to the Storms defensive line and asked questions. The key this week is for the Warriors to play like that for the entire match instead of showing us tiny glimpses of what they can offer. I'm not sure if the Warriors were helped with the way the team was structured, but I think with a few tweaks to the game day 17, this side could play some enterprising football.

There were things that concerned me, however, which leads me to my negative from the match.

Match Negatives

Defence, once again, is my bugbear with the Warriors missing 30 tackles. The Storm is always a dangerous side with the ball in hand, but they murdered the Warriors' left-edge defence. With many changes to the roster, it simply looked like there was a lack of trust and communication between the players. I have my fingers crossed that this is something the coaches address this week, and we see an improvement this Sunday.

While I praised the Warriors attack in patches, they fell back into old habits when they started to fall behind on the scoreboard, resorting to the one-out running that plagued the side for seasons. Judging by comments from Nathan Brown after the match, this isn't a directive from him that players need to own it and stop falling into this predictable attack. When they spread it out a little further than one of the ruck, they were troubling the Storm, who have a great defensive record so clearly getting the ball past the first man off the ruck works, so Warriors, please put this old style in the bin.

Speaking of bins, that sin-bin call against Josh Curran was one of the biggest howlers I have seen this season. I didn't think much of Matt Cecchin officiating, but this call was not his; it was the bunkers. It was a legal tackle that unfortunately resulted in Jennings getting injured due to a head clash with Curran. Losing Curran at this moment sucked all the energy out of the Warriors and turn the tide heavily in the Storms favour. I don't think it was enough to ruin any chance the Warriors had of winning, but it was a shocking call none the less. What makes this call even worse is that Curran has been sighted for his tackle and could be suspended for 3-5 weeks. If that happens, it is a travesty and technically should change the way the NRL is played; Curran had a head clash with Jennings, so if this decision holds, does this mean that any accidental head clash will result in a sin-binning and suspension. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail at the Judiciary, and he does not get punished.

Warrior of the match 
Copyright Photo: New Zealand Herald
I went with Reece Walsh as my Warrior of the round.
The Warriors have a bonafide star in the making in Walsh. While he was found wanting on defence on multiple occasions, he offered some much-needed spark to the Warriors attack; the decision to start him at fullback and move Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was an interesting one and not one I would have made and after watching his performance, I would be moving him into five-eighth right away. He has been playing there in the reserve grade, and right now, it strengthens the Warriors, keeping RTS out the back and increasing the attacking capabilities of the halves. His size has many people worried, but he showed heart and no fear when he was taking the line on, and man, does this kid has a boot on him.
I'm not sure what the Warriors plays are for Walsh for the rest of 2021, but I expect the 18-year-old to feature in the Warriors 17 for the rest of the season.

Warrior to Improve
Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warrior to improve is Kodi Nikorima.
I'm not sure what else there is to say about Nikorima that I haven't already said in the rest of my Warriors to improve sections that he has been involved in. He continues to fail to deliver and is proving each week that he is not a half. He ran 10 times for 51 metres and also kicked 10 times for 204 metres. It just isn't good enough, and the performance of Walsh just further highlighted the lacklustre effort Nikorima is offering. He also was a massive liability defensively, constantly moving off his man and putting extra pressure on his outside men. Besides his performance, his comments at the end of the match just rubbed me the wrong way; instead of owning up to his efforts, he pushed the blame elsewhere, citing that the coach moving him to halfback affected his game and that his edge defence was hindered by inexperienced players. This is not how an experienced player should act, in my opinion. Perhaps I am off the mark and am just used to hearing Tuivasa-Sheck not throw his teammates under the bus. Still, if it was me, I would be moving Nikorima to the bench as a utility or sending him to reserve grade for a spell to give his attitude a well-needed adjustment.

Next game's thoughts and predictions

Round 8 sees the Warriors return to the Central Coast to face a Cowboys outfit riding a three-game winning streak. This will be a tougher match than I would have predicted a few weeks back, but the Warriors stand a great chance of returning to the winner's circle here. The Cowboys have looked good the past few rounds, but I am going with a Warriors win by 10; I think the Warriors have what it takes to get the job done, just as long as the forwards do their part and the halves get the backs involved.
Team naming Tuesday will be interesting, and I'm not sure what Brown will pick this week, but if it was me, I would probably keep the backline as it was except for moving RTS back into fullback, Walsh into five-eighth and O'Sullivan back into the halfback. I would be happy to keep them how they were in the forwards, with Harris returning to lock being the only change.

Before I go, I just wanted to do a shameless plug. I have started writing a weekly segment for The Final Tackle Podcast every Monday where I recap the entire round, so if you are interested in my take on all the NRL games each week, go check it out at the link below.

The Final Tackle - Brad's Ramblings Round Recap

So that was deflating Round 7, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions?

What would you do with Reece Walsh?
Who was your player of the day?
Was I too harsh on Nikorima?
What is your score prediction for the Cowboys clash?

Monday, 19 April 2021

NZ Warriors Round 6 Review: Step in right direction as record-breaking Warriors vanquish Dragons

After Round five's embarrassing loss to the Sea Eagles, the Warriors made the trip to Netstrata Jubilee Stadium to face a Dragons on a four-game winning streak.
I was nervous about this match but was happy to get my prediction wrong with the Warriors returning to the winner's circle and the top eight with a 20-14 victory.

Well, that was a better effort, the Dragons have been on a roll, but the Warriors continue to have the edge over the St George outfit, with this being the 5th win in a row against the red V.
The Dragons drew first blood with young speedster, Cody Ramsey, crossing over in the corner in the 7th minute. The Warriors bounced back and took the lead with two tries in the space of three minutes when Tohu Harris barged over to score, and then Paul Turner, who found himself on the field sooner than expected when Peta Hiku left the field with a shoulder injury, dived on a grubber that Matt Dufty failed to ground. Massive winger Mikaele Ravalawa bulldozed his way over in the corner in the 29th minute to narrow the Warriors lead. The rest of the first half saw both sides shut each other down with some impressive defensive displays. The Dragons containing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and the Warriors kept Corey Norman quiet to see the Warriors hold onto a slim 12-8 lead as the teams went into the tunnels. The second half offered more of the same, with neither side able to get the upper hand until a try by Dufty in the 59th minute gave the Dragons back the lead. It looked like it might be all they needed to walk away with the victory, but Warriors skipper Tuivasa-Sheck took control and, in an excellent solo effort, forced his way to the try line to wrestle the game back into the Warriors favour. A penalty goal in the 69th minute by Kodi Nikorima pushed the Warriors lead back out to 6, which lead to a tense final 10 minutes with the Dragons throwing everything they had at the Warriors defensive line. Still, the New Zealand side held firm and got the much-needed win.

I thought this was a great effort by the side, they have been awful the past few weeks offering very little of attack and struggling on defence, but they improved tenfold this match. The key now is that the Warriors build on the platform they set in this match and don't fall back into old habits. They have a tough match this week, but the next few rounds after that are definitely winnable matches.

Unlike last week, there was plenty of things that left a smile on my face, which leads to my positives from the game.

Match Positives

Just like in last years match against the Dragons, the Warriors accuracy was excellent. They broke their own record with a 98% completion rate, completing 40 out of 41 sets (it was reported as 100% until the stats were updated today). This type of accuracy is not generally associated with the Warriors, but it was good to see that they were able to keep the silly errors that plagued them in earlier rounds out of this match. If they can keep this up while also increasing their attacking opportunities, then they stand a chance to win a lot more matches. 

Speaking of attack, their attack was a lot better this week. The forwards had no issue getting the ball up the field, with the return of Bunty Afoa and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown making an immediate impact. I also loved getting to see Ben Murdoch-Masila get his first start for the Warriors; he started the match strongly and was causing plenty of headaches for the Dragons. My only concern was that Nathan Brown waited a bit too long to bring him back on for my liking, but I have made no secret of my man-crush on BMM. Fingers crossed, we see the big starting again this week. With forwards doing the job upfront, the halves started to show promise, getting themselves involved more and, more importantly, getting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck into prime positions to attack. This is a great sign, and hopefully, it continues for the rest of the season.

The Warriors defence also improved, with them ending the match with 91.2% tackle efficiency. They kept their defensive line reasonably solid. Joshua Curran helped in the aspect, making a team-high 50 tackles. I think that may have been why he got the call up this week, he is always solid on the defensive side of the game, and I'm sure he will be in the gameday 17 for some time. It could also be down to the team starting to trust each other. Whatever the reason behind this is, please show me more. While the defence was better this week, the Warriors still missed 26 tackles, so they would need to bring that number down.

There weren't many concerns for me this week, but I did have one, which leads me to my negative from the match.

Match Negatives

The only negative I have from this match is injuries. With Addin Fonua-Blake, Euan Aitken, Chanel Harris-Tavita, and David Fusitu'a already out, the Warriors had five players head off for scans today with Peta Hiku Adam Pompey and Paul Turner all expected to spend times on the sideline. This is a massive hit to the club, especially with Pompey and Turner's efforts in this match. Time will tell how long these guys will be out for, and Nathan Brown has said that we may see the likes of Hayze Perham and Reece Walsh come into the side as early as this week. The Warriors are not the only team suffering from injuries, but generally, when you are ravaged by injuries, your season doesn't end well. Fingers crossed that the injuries suffered in this round are not too bad.

Warrior of the Game
Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warrior of the match was Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
In his 100th match for the Warriors, their skipper was at his usual excellent form. He lead the side in running metres with 249 from 26 runs, broke the line twice, had 7 line breaks and 1 offload, not to mention his match-winning try. He always delivers, and seeing him getting involved more on attack means only good things for the club. It's still such a shame that he is leaving at the end of the year, but you can never question his commitment to the 2021 campaign. I just hope that New Zealand fans get a chance to send him off in style with a match or two at Mount Smart.

Warrior to Improve 

I have watched the game several times, and I still couldn't pick a Warrior to improve. I think the improved effort was spread across the 17. The usual suspects in this section, Wayde Egan and Kodi Nikorima had better games, with Egan getting the ball out of the ruck quicker and Nikorima taking charge in the halves. 

Next game's thoughts and prediction

Round 7 sees the Warriors head to AAMI Park to face the Storm in their annual ANZAC clash. This match always fills me with dread as the Storm love to put a cricket score on the Warriors this time every year.
The Storm made easy work of the Roosters this round and have been in excellent form as of late and will be the toughest challenge for the Warriors so far. I feel that unless the Warriors play the game of their lives, they will be on the way to another ANZAC day defeat. So I am picking the Storm to win by 18. With the injuries hitting the side, I'm not too sure what the side will look like, but if Pompey, Hiku and Turner are all out, I would bring Walsh onto a wing and Perham into the centres. It may still be too early to bring Walsh in, especially against a side like Melbourne (I thought he was on a development deal, but with Brown saying he may play this week, I guess he isn't?). Still, the troops are dwindling, and the only other option would be to move a second-rower into the centres and put Perham on the wing, so I say give the young boys a shot.

So that was a much improved Round 6, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Who would you bring in to replace the injured backs?
Who was your player of the day?
Did you have a player to improve?
What is your score prediction for the Storm clash?