Sunday, October 3, 2021

NZ Warriors 2021 Season Review: A disappointing start to the Brown Era, but is there light at the end of the tunnel?




With the 2021 Grand Final almost upon us, I decided it was the perfect time to comb through the Warriors year and conduct my season review. 
COVID continued to play its part in the NRL landscape, which saw the Warriors spend the entire 2021 season across the ditch again.

I came into the season reasonably confident that the Warriors would return to finals football. Despite inconsistent performances, they still had a slim chance of a top-eight finish for the majority of the season, but it wasnt to be as they finished the year in 12th position.
2021 was filled to the brim with talking points, so let's just get into my review.

My Take on 2021

The Warriors ended the 2020 season in 10th place, and in my 2021 season preview, I predicted that the Warriors would finish this season in 6th place with an improved forward pack. So another incorrect prediction on my part, but after having some time to let my personal feelings on the Warriors season subside, I think 2022 will be happier times for the Warriors and the Warriors fans.

In the preseason, we were given the news that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was going to leave at the end of the year with a shift to Rugby Union; not the greatest way to start the 2021 campaign, but at least the Warriors addressed the rumours head-on so the club could focus on the season ahead. COVID protocols saw the Warriors preseason training split into two groups, with Nathan Brown and the New Zealand based players starting the season in New Zealand with the rest of the squad training in Kiama, located on the coast in New South Wales. Splitting up the squad in the preseason is not the ideal way to prepare for the upcoming season, and they weren't helped when their first preseason match against the Storm was cancelled due to a COVID outbreak in Melbourne. This meant the Warriors only got one preseason match against the Titans, which ended in a 12 all draw, with the forward pack showing signs of improvement.

The Warriors started the season with another match against the Titans, winning 19-6 but followed that up with a 30-16 loss to the Knights and a 34-31 come from behind win over the Raiders. This started the trend of the Warriors being unable to field a consistent gameday 17. In turn, their performances fluctuated, with the team unable to string wins together until a three-game winning streak in rounds 20 to 22. They also went on two large losing streaks with four losses in a row from Rounds 4 to 7 and then a horror six successive losses from rounds 14 to 19. Sprinkled between these losses were a few wins over less than stellar teams (Cowboys, Tigers twice, Sharks and Bulldogs) that didn't really build confidence in the sides playoff potential due to how poor they looked in defeat on matches they should have won. The final three rounds saw the Warriors slide out of playoff contention with a narrow loss to the Broncos (24-22) and a larger defeat to the Raiders (28-16) before ending the year with my pick for worst match of the year with a 44-0 loss to the Titans.

This saw the Warriors end their year on a sour note, and an 8 win, 16 loss record. The Warriors had a poor run of injuries that didn't help them, but to their credit, they have not made excuses and accepted that they did not play at the required level to be successful in 2021. The optimist in me hopes that the few peaks and many valleys that this season had for the Warriors has given them plenty to learn from and that they will be better prepared for 2022.

My Positives for 2021


Despite the less than stellar year, a few things brought a smile to my face this season, which leads me to my top four positives for 2020.

New signings a boost

The Warriors had plenty of signings before the season started and then made a few more as the season progressed, and for the most part, I saw promise in many of them.
Before round one, the Warriors welcomed Euan Aitken, Addin Fonua-Blake, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Bayley Sironen, Sean O'Sullivan, Marcelo Montoya and Kane Evans. Then during the season, they always picked up Reece Walsh, Matt Lodge and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Fonua-Blake, Lodge and Walsh were the top signings in my eyes with some impressive displays throughout the year, but Montoya and DWZ surprised me; they added some much-needed speed to the backline and played a lot better than I expected; Aitken was hampered by injury and didn't have the impact I expected in the centres but found some form when he moved into the second row,
O'Sullivan was a handy backup half that had his moments, and Sironen and BMM had some solid outings but unfortunately ended their years with plenty of quiet performances. Evans, well, we will talk about him a little bit later.
Overall I think the club has brought in some good talent to boost the forward pack, round out the squad and snatched a superstar in the making; however, there are still areas in the depth chart that needs some beefing up, but Peter O'Sullivan has been making the moves which was what I was asking for in my season review last year.

Forward Pack comes to the party (for the most part)

For most of the time I have been writing about the Warriors, there has been one constant theme: the Warriors forward pack lacked the punch needed to allow the spine and backline to click into gear. The Warriors made massive strides to fix that problem this year, with their signings ending the year fourth on the post-contact metre stat ladder with 13,261 metres, thanks mainly to their new-look pack. AFB did not play as much as we would have liked, but the Warriors looked a lot better when he was on the field. What he lacked was a partner in crime which he eventually got with Lodge joined the side. These two were a handful when they were both on the pitch, and Nathan Brown needs to figure a plan to have at least one of these guys on the field at all times as this year when they would both come on the field, your saw the Warriors start to dip. Bunty Afoa was the next best in the prop rotation and was rewarded with a contract extension, and I'm sure he will go to another level in 2022. In the second row/lock department, Tohu Harris had another big year, but it was ended early with an injury, he was followed by Josh Curran, who had a great year and put his hand up for a starting role next year and Jazz Tevaga who just continues to impress me with his toughness and ability to dig deep regardless if were the Warriors make him play. The rest of the rotation was hit and miss; you saw strong games one week, then massive dropoffs the next. There is plenty of competition for the pack next year, which is excellent. Players like Eliesa Katoa, Bayley Sironen and Jack Murchie will need some massive efforts to get themselves into the gameday 17 conversation. If Lodge, AFB and Harris can get through the 2022 season without injuries or suspensions, then the Warriors should have the platform needed for their halves to work some magic.

Youngsters get much needed time at the Learning Tree

With all the Warriors' injuries this year, we got to see plenty of youngsters get some substantial game time. Walsh sits at the top of the class playing 16 games and adding plenty of excitement. However, we also got to see Rocco Berry (8 games), Ed Kosi (5 games), Taniela Otukolo (3 games), Viliami Vailea (2 games) and Jackson Frei (1 game). 
Berry really impressed me, and I think we will see him become a regular starter in 2022; he is still a bit small but showed that he was defensively sound and could find the try-line when given the chance. Otukolo, Vailea, and Frei had limited opportunities to play but did not let anyone down. Kosi had a lot of criticism thrown his way, but I think he was a bit hard done by; he was a development player that was thrown in the deep end and struggled to stay afloat. All of these players were not expected to play a match this season. I'm sure that since they got some runs on the board early this season, we will see them be more complete players when they are called upon next year (as of writing, Frei has still not been re-signed, but I think he is a relatively cheap depth option and will stay). The future looks bright with plenty of these rookies, and I'm excited to watch them develop.

RTS gone but SJ is back

Losing RTS is massive, he has been a shining light in some dark seasons and will leave a gigantic hole, but we also got the news this year that Shaun Johnson had signed to return to the club on a two-year deal. I was shocked when the signing was announced, as it looked like the damage done by his exit in 2018 was too severe to repair. When he left back then, I was upset and angry at both him and the club; it was no secret that the Warriors were not getting their money's worth out of him at the time but there wasnt a player to fill his shoes; however that decision has come and gone, and they now have him returning at a steal. He still has issues with injuries, but I think he has developed as a lead half in his time with the Sharks; he is not the same highlight reel player the Warriors had. That is a good thing, though, as the Warriors are in desperate need of a half that can direct the team and with the forward pack he now has at his disposal, he should be able to reignite the Warriors attack. We could even see the likes of David Fusitu'a return to his glory days. Plus, the thought of SJ and Walsh combining on attack just makes me excited. Once again, it's the optimist in me coming out, but it just feels right having SJ back in a Warriors jersey.

My Negatives for 2021


Unfortunately, there were plenty of issues with the 2021 season, but I have narrowed it down to my four most significant negatives to make it easier.

Missed Tackles

It should come as no surprise since I mentioned it every week, but my biggest negative from the 2021 season was missed tackles. The Warriors missed 725 tackles this season, they were not the worst in this department, making the 7th least amount of misses, but they averaged 30 missed tackles a match which is just too many if they want to succeed in the NRL. 
How do they fix this? Well, I'm not entirely sure, but I think a new defensive coach would be a good step forward, Justin Morgan hasn't made any noticeable changes to the defensive structures in his time in the role, and perhaps a change will help the club. However, in his defence, not having the same players on the pitch week in and week out did not help the defensive gameplan, so perhaps with some consistent team lists next year, we may see the defence improve with the players learning to work together and trust each other to cover their man. 

Errors

Another regular complaint from me this season was the Warriors error rate. They made 251 errors this season, which was actually the third least amount. However, my issue was that the Warriors unforced errors almost always happened early in their sets, when they were deep in the opposition RedZone or trying to get out of their own RedZone. These mistakes are called coach killers for a reason, and they need to just reign them in a little; I don't want to see the Warriors shy away from second phase football but just stop pushing passes that aren't on. It's all about finding a balance, so they don't hinder their attack.

Injuries

Injuries were a massive issue in 2021; the Warriors had no player in their squad that played all 24 matches, with the closest being Jazz Tevaga (22 games) and Kodi Nikorima (21 games). They used 33 players in total this season but losing critical players for stints throughout the season really haltered any momentum building. Key figures in the squad that played limited matches were Tohu Harris (15 games), Addin Fonua-Blake (15 games), Ben Murdoch-Masila (14 games), Chanel Harris-Tavita (11 games), Peta Hiku (10 games) and David Fusitu'a (5 games). Having to rotate your halves pairing almost weekly is a surefire way to disrupt a teams attack; the Warriors were not the only team hit with injuries, and with the increased pace of the game now, this is probably going to be a constant theme for years to come. Some injuries are not easy to prevent, but improving the squad's fitness levels could help eliminate minor injuries and setbacks, so that's probably a good place to start (plus, fitter players should also help improve the defence).

Not playing for 80

My last negative is the Warriors struggling to deliver an 80-minute performance at any point throughout the season. In most games, there was a 20-minute stretch where the Warriors did not show up; it was a consistent issue with the only thing that changed was where that 20 minutes was, sometimes it was at the start of the match, forcing the Warriors to attempt a come from behind win, or it was at the end of the game where they saw leads turn into losses (rounds 2 and 15 against the Knights, round 23 against the Broncos and round 24 against the Raiders). If the Warriors had played the entire match and kept the lead in those four matches, this season could have been different. The NRL is a tough competition, and if you take your eye off the ball for even a few moments in a match, you are doomed to defeat. It's something that can be addressed in the offseason, and I'm sure if the team is fit enough and keeps injuries to a minimum, then 80-minute performances will come.

My Top Three Warriors for the season

A few players stood up this season, with several players being selected as my Warrior of the match multiple times. Still, I have chosen the three that appeared the most as my Warriors of the season.


Tohu Harris

For the second year in a row, Tohu Harris gets the nod as my Warrior of the year; he was picked as my Warrior of the round on four occasions. With some much-needed help in the pack, Harris wasnt as heavily relied on to do all the work, but he still went above and beyond in 2021. Injuries saw him only play 15 matches, but he still finished the year with the fourth-most tackles for the club with 620 tackles at a 95.7% tackle efficiency. He also finished 10th in running metres with 1375 metres. 
I was concerned that the Warriors would lose Harris to a rival club, but the fact that he has re-signed makes me optimistic about the future, and he is a contender to take over as the Captain of the team in 2022, and if he gets the job I'm sure he will do it well. He is a leader in the pack, and if he can stay healthy in 2022, you can bet he will be in the running for the third year in a row as my Warrior of the season.

Reece Walsh

The RLPA rookie of the year also received 4 selections during his first season with the club and is a superstar in the making. He played 16 matches in 2021 and was the leading try scorer with 9 tries; he also led the team with linebreaks (14) and was second for try assists (11). Not a bad start to his career, but he still has plenty to learn, his defence needs work, and he made the third most errors (19), but you cannot question his spirit and determination. He has had some issues with aggression on the field and now a few dramas off it; however, I think the older players in the Warriors camp will take him under their wing and iron out the wrinkles. I expect big things from Walsh in 2022, and I think he is a player that the Warriors can build around as they attempt to return to the playoffs.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Again, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck makes my top three (unfortunately also for the last time) after being selected threes times this season. Despite announcing his exit and the end of the season and then leaving earlier than expected, you cannot accuse RTS of taking his eye off the ball as he continued to give 100%. He once again led the team in running metres (3054) and tackle-breaks (71), as well as being third with try assists (11). He added more defensive highlight reel moments with try-saving tackles, including the massive one on Jordan Rapana in round 3. I don't know what else I can say about RTS that I haven't said before; he is right up there with the likes of Stacey Jones, Steve Price and Simon Mannering in my eyes as elite Warriors. He always did his best on the field, never got involved in dramas or scandals off the field and will be a massive loss for the Warriors moving forward. Some rugby union fans like to write off League players joining their code, but the Blues and potentially the All Blacks have got themselves a winner here. Good luck Roger on your new journey, and I hope you smash it out of the park. 

My Three Warriors who need to improve

On the other hand, the players who appeared in my Warriors to improve section throughout the season were mainly the same week in and week out. Like the Warrior of the year section, I have selected the three players that appeared the most in my Warrior to improve.


Kodi Nikorima

Kodi Nikorima dominated the Warrior to improve section of my review this year with 8 selections, but it wasnt because of his stats. Stat wise he led the team in try assists (14) and points scored (100), but he also led the team in missed tackles (55). He was picked so often through the year due to his ability to disappear in matches. It's no secret that when the Nikorima is running the ball, the Warriors had a good performance, but too often, he looked listed on attack and just shuffled the ball to whoever was next to him. As the season progressed, Nikorima looked less interested in playing, and the Warriors suffered as a result. The forwards were doing their job up front, so there were no excuses for why he wouldn't run the ball, and I think his time as a half in the NRL is done. I still think he has plenty to offer as a No.14, and while he appears to not be interested in that role, I believe that the No.14 has become more critical than ever with the new rule changes. He was looking at leaving the Warriors after earlier activated his player option; at the time of writing, it seems like he will be a Warrior in 2022. I have my fingers crossed that he moves to the bench and is used to add spark out of dummy-half when the opposition is tiring.

Kane Evans

Kane Evans was picked to improve only 2 times this season, but I feel that if he wasnt suspended, that amount would have increased. When the Warriors announced Evans signing, I personally thought it was a dud, but I wanted to give him a chance to prove my initial thoughts wrong. However, unfortunately, my thoughts were correct as he offered very little to the Warriors; he played 14 games and only averaged 66 running metres a game after playing and minimal post-contact metres. He just didn't make a dent in attack or defence, and I feel that the Warriors would have got more use out of Tom Ale or Jackson Frei. His discipline was shocking; he was sin-binned three times this season and is currently suspended for 5 matches; he is simply more trouble than what he is worth. The current rumours are that the Warriors are trying to offload him to another club which I think is a wise decision, but I'm not sure if any team will pick him up. I'm sure he is a nice guy off the pitch, but the Warriors need players that add value to the squad, and I just don't see what he provides.

Wayde Egan

Wayde Egan is one of the more interesting picks here; he was selected as my Warrior to improve twice this year, but that was early on in the season, and I thought he really showed improvement as the season went on. He led the team defensively, making 715 tackles, and he also had 6 try assists and 540 running metres. The no-look passes from the ruck were still there, and he still looked to throw a few forward passes from time to time, however behind that big pack, he looked a lot better and started to snipe out of dummy-half, which is something we did not see from him in 2020. I think he will continue to grow as the Warriors starting hooker and reach a new level and hopefully will not be in the section of my season review next year.

In Summary

Another season is done, and another one with the Warriors not making the playoffs, which makes this season a fail in my books.
This season had plenty of what-if moments, and that's what makes the NRL so exciting for me; a few games go another way, and the Warriors are a playoff team, but it just wasnt to be.
However, as we look ahead to the 2022 season, I am confident that the Warriors can return to the playoffs. If they can keep all their stars on the field for the majority of the season, they have the talent to make it; it will be down to how they execute their game plan.

Signings for 2022 so far are Shaun Johnson and Aaron Pene. I've already discussed SJ, but Pene is a decent prop signing from the Storm; he is young and hasn't had a lot of first-grade experience, but from what I have seen this year from him, I think he will fill a hole in the Warriors prop rotation, I will discuss that in more detail in my 2022 season preview.

This season was tough for me personally; I think having no live games at Mount Smart for the second year in a row finally got to me; I eat and breath Warriors football, but there were times this year where my interest waned. Don't get me wrong, I never missed a game. I still wrote match reports for all Warriors games for Nothing But League and my match reviews, but it just felt like more of a grind, especially after the Warriors match against the Bulldogs in front of a sellout crowd at Mount Smart had to be cancelled. 2022 looks almost certain to be played for the most part in Australia; the Warriors have said they hope to have some games played in New Zealand towards the end of the season, but I won't get my hopes up just yet.

But other than the on-field results, 2021 was pretty good for me; with my show on New Zealand Sport Radio having a good second season, I also got to join Roo & Hammer, Warrior NRL Fanatics and Hold the Ball on their channels to talk about the Warriors. I just need to get myself on This Warriors Life and Fonzie, and then I've completed my bingo card. 
I'm not sure what 2022 will bring for my website, the match reviews will still be here, but I am thinking about possibly adding videos. Similar to what I do on The Stand-Off, but let me know if videos on Warriors news and rumours is something you guys would like to see.

While the writing will have a little break, my Facebook show will still have a few more episodes before season two ends, so come check it out at 8pm on Wednesdays.


Thank you all once again for reading my reviews this year. I know some of them were tough to read; hopefully, I have better matches to write about next year. I look forward to chatting with you guys all again real soon.

So that was my take on 2021, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

What are your thoughts on the 2021 season?
Who was your player of the year?
Which player needs to improve the most?
What realistic changes would you make for next season?
How do you see the 2022 season going?






Monday, September 6, 2021

NZ Warriors Round Review: Saving the worst till last as Warriors embarrassed in Titans blowout


After round 24's defeat to the Raiders, the Warriors made their way to Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast to face the Titans. The Titans were playing for a spot in the finals and needed a win by 11 or more to make the cut, but they blew that out of the park with a dominant 44-0 victory over a Warriors team that failed to deliver in their last outing of the year.

In the early stages, the Warriors started the match strong, almost scoring tries through Euan Aitken and Matt Lodge, but both lost the ball on the line. Then the Titans struck and never looked back, scoring three tries via Jayden Campbell, Mitch Rein and David Fifita to end the first half with a 16-0 lead, with the Warriors needing a massive effort to dig themselves out of the hole they found themselves in.

That wasnt to be with Fifita scoring his second try of the afternoon in the first minute of the second half. The Warriors offered little resistance, struggling to hold onto the ball and complete their sets, only going across for one try but was denied after the pass was deemed forward. Brian Kelly crossed for the Titans fifth try, and that seemed to be the straw that broke the camels back as the Warriors imploded. They lost Jazz Tevaga to the sin-bin after he ran in and pushed Phillip Sami after a pull-apart on the sidelines. One minute later, the Warriors had two more players sent to the bin when Matt Lodge was given his marching orders for a late hit on Tyrone Peachey, and Kane Evans was marched for striking. The Titans also lost Jarrod Wallace to the bin for his part in the fight. With only 10 men on the park, the Warriors already woeful defence just fell apart, with the Titans running through three more tries through Patrick Herbert, Campbell and Moeaki Fotuaika to twist the knife further, ending the Warriors season on a sour note with the 44-0 defeat.

What a horrible way to end the season, the Warriors had nothing but pride to play for, but they left their hearts at the door. They lacked direction, discipline and respect for the ball. I had picked the Titans to win this match, but I did not see this margin happening. It was brutal to watch and even harder to write about. I'm not sure I have much else to say here, so I will just get into my positives and negatives.

First, my positives.

Match Positives

I have watched the game over several times now, and I still can't find any positives out of the match, so my only positive is that this season is over. It has been a strange season, with a few ups and many downs and Im just looking forward to taking a break from the team for a little bit. Hopefully, the players, coaching staff and club have learnt some lessons this year and can address them in the offseason to hit the ground running in 2022.

There were plenty of concerns for me, which brings me to my negatives from the match.

Match Negatives

There were so many negatives for me in this performance, but I have decided to reduce it down to my four biggest, so let's just get into it.

Errors hurt the Warriors again; last week, I wrote that I wanted to see them reduce their errors to single digits but went the other way and ended the match with 13. They were all schoolboy errors and made the Warriors look very amateur. It just seemed like one of those days where the passes didn't stick, and the further behind they fell, the worse things got. We have seen them play low error football at times throughout the season; they just need to make that the new normal in 2022 as if they make this many errors every week next season, it will be another long year.

Missed tackles were troubling once again, They have been my biggest concern all season, and they missed 33 in this match. The Warriors had gaping holes all across their line and really took a step backwards. I was hoping that with the same team playing for the last few weeks, we would see come cohesion defensively, but it just hasn't come. I still feel that the Warriors need to part ways with Justin Morgan and bring in a new defensive coach because, as they say, defence wins championships. The Warriors can kiss their finals chances goodbye in the future if they cant get their defensive structures in order.

Discipline was an issue; the Warriors conceded 8 penalties, 4 six agains and the 3 sin bins. I felt that they were hard done by with some of the calls, but you could see that the team just fell apart and frustration set in. I love watching the Warriors play aggressive football, but they need to toe the line and not give the officials any reason to ping them (as hard as that is with some of the poor officiating we have seen). Starting fights when they were frustrated shows that the team lacks some leadership out there, but I'm positive that this will improve once Tohu Harris and Shaun Johnson are back in the mix.

Lastly is this lack of heart and desire. This was the final match of the year, and the Warriors had a chance to end their disappointing season on a better note, but they barely fired a shot, and once the Titans held a 16-0 lead, it looked like the Warriors just gave up. I know it has been a tough season; the team have had to relocate and deal with getting kids in and out of schools, had many injuries and struggled to have the same team named each week. However, I wanted the team to show some resilience like some of the other teams that face adversities this year (the Roosters spring to mind) and build like we saw them do last season. This game hurt to watch, and it is tarnishing my view on the year to date and will be the lasting memory I take into the offseason, but I know my optimism will return when I write my season preview early next year.

Warrior of the Match



For the first time in quite a while, I could not pick a Warriors of the match, some players played better than others, but no one stood out enough for me to give them the nod. I hope I don't find myself in this position next season.

Warrior to Improve

Copyright Photo: New Zealand Herald

My Warrior to improve goes to Kane Evans. Every week I question why Nathan Brown picks Evans, and every week Evans shows why he shouldn't be in the side. He played just over 20 minutes and was put on report for leading with his elbow and then binned for punching for the second time this season. He just doesn't offer any positives to outweigh his negatives and is slowly climbing up my ranks as the worst signing in club history (I haven't compiled a list, but #1 for me is Jesse Royal, FYI). It looks like he will miss at least the first 5 weeks of next season due to suspension, and I hope that cooler heads prevail and he does not return to the gameday 17.

Seasons done; what's next for me?

So that is the last game for the Warriors this season, and it wasnt the way any of us would have liked the season to end. 2022 looks to be another year with no (or just a handful) of games on home soil for the side, which will be tough for the club, players, and fans alike. However, before the 2022 season begins, I will be back with my season review; I normally wait to release it just before the Grand Final, so look out for it in a few weeks. In the past, I have disappeared in the offseason. Still, I would like to do some articles throughout the months before everything kicks off again, so if you have anything you would like to see my opinions on, let me know, and I will see what I can put together.

So that was an embarrassing Round 25, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Did you have a Warrior of the match?
What would you do with Evans?
How would you grade the 2021 season overall?
Are you going into the 2022 season confident or worried?



Monday, August 30, 2021

NZ Warriors Round 24 Review: Warriors slim playoff hopes sink in second half collapse


After round 23's defeat to the Broncos, the Warriors made their way to BB Print Stadium in Mackay to face the Canberra Raiders. Both sides needed the victory here if they wanted to keep their playoff aspirations alive, and I was confident that the Warriors could get the job done here, and it certainly looked that way when they shot out to a 16-0 lead; however, it wasnt to be as the Warriors didn't return from the sheds at halftime, allowing the Raiders to come from behind with a 28-16 victory putting playoffs officially out of reach for the Warriors.

The Warriors busted out of the gates scoring in the first minute when Wayde Egan darted out of the ruck before putting Sean O'Sullivan away. After a brief battle in the middle with neither side getting the upper hand until the Warriors scored back to back tries when they kicked towards Bailey Simonsson, who had a shocker and failed to defuse either kick, allowing Rocco Berry and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to score. The Warriors had a few more chances but failed to capitalise; just before halftime, the Raiders got on the board when Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad barged his way over to see the Warriors enter the sheds with a 16-6 lead.

The Raiders were over again in the first two minutes of the second half when Sebastian Kris barged over on the right edge before the game once again settled into a battle. No points were scored until Kris finished off a nice 50-metre play, which after Jordan Rapana's conversion, saw the match level with 15 minutes to go. The Warriors had a few attempts of regaining the lead but made some poor choices with the ball in hand, which was a constant theme of the second half with Chad Townsend off the pitch after reinjuring his shoulder. Reece Walsh attempted a field goal which sailed to the left. This seemed to be the last swing the Warriors could muster as the Raiders scored down the left edge, with Rapana scoring the match-winning, in almost an identical manner to his try from round 3 that was stopped by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The Warriors attempted a short kickoff and came within a fingers grasp of grabbing before the Raiders struck again as the final siren blared when Hudson Young scooped up the loose ball after Walsh dropped a bomb to score the Raiders fifth and final try of the night.

It was a frustrating watch, the Warriors had the game in control, but as soon as Chad Townsend was injured, they lost their direction and with Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua-Blake both off the field, the Warriors lost their backbone in the middle. It just opened the doors for the Raiders to walk straight back in. I don't really know what else to say here that I won't cover in my positives and negatives, so I may as well just get into it.

Despite the result, there were a handful of things in the match that made me smile, which brings me to my positives from the match.

Match Positives

Chad Townsend was strong while he was on the pitch, he directed the side round the park well, and his kicking was on point. I think it was his best performance since rejoining the club; it was also his last game for the Warriors, as the injury he suffered will see him miss the final game of the year against the Titans. I hope that Sean O'Sullivan and Chanel Harris-Tavita have learned from the veteran half during his stay and can step up and similarly direct the team in the final match of the season before Shaun Johnson returns next season.

As expected, Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua-Blake were strong up the middle, with both running over 100m (AFB with 179m and Lodge with 171m). They look so much better when they are playing; the issue though is that when they both come off the field, the Warriors performance falls off a cliff. Both players can play large minutes, but the coaching staff need to figure out how to make sure they have at least one of these guys on the field all the time if they stagger them coming off in a way where one comes off early and plays a longer second stint and the other plays longer at the start and shorter in the second. I'm not a coach, so I could be way off the mark, but I feel the Warriors are better when these guys are out there, so make they both don't sit on the pine at the same time.

I had plenty of concerns, however, which brings me to my negatives from the match.

Match Negatives

That second half was shocking; I already mentioned that when Townsend went off, the Warriors went off the rails, but I feel that they may have come out for the second half thinking they had done enough to keep the lead. Complete speculation on my part, but in the NRL, a 10 point lead is never safe; you need to keep the pressure on. To see the Warriors let the Raiders off the hook when their season was on the line just hurt as a fan and makes me concerned with how they will go this week with nothing but pride to play for against a team still desperate to squeak into the playoffs.

Errors again hurt the Warriors; they ended the match with 10, and just like last week, many of them came from poor carries. They just need to show the ball more respect and keep that ball locked in when making contact. It can be easier said than done, but the Warriors have shown throughout the season that they can play error-free football, so with one game left, I want to see the errors move into single digits. 

Ah, missed tackles, my old friend; it's back once again with the Warriors missing 44 in this match. The first half was a reasonably good defensive display, but the defensive line went to tatters when Lodge and AFB went off. Once that middle started to soften, the edge defence started slipping, and the Raiders just started breaking the line at will. Defence has been a massive concern for me all year and needs to be one of the main things addresses in the offseason.

Nathan Brown's team selection needs plenty of work. Seeing him drop Jazz Tevaga to 18th man and bring in Kane Evans had me scratching my head. Evans has done nothing to deserve a spot in the 17, and this game was more of the same. He offers very little on attack running only 3 times in the 29 minutes he played. A positive was that he made no errors this time; he is a monster of a man; he just doesn't play like one. Tevaga offers so much more and should have at least been on the bench, if not starting at lock instead of Bayley Sironen, who still isn't offering enough. Brown needs to pick his best side. This year I don't believe he has done that, and if he continues this trend next season, we may have to be prepared for more disappointment.

Lastly, I want to touch on milking, the Raiders players appeared to be staying down after tackles in a bid to earn some soft penalties, and it worked for them, with the Warriors being penalised 7 times. It just irked me to see the Warriors getting punished for legitimate tackles when the Raiders got away with some high contact shots throughout the match, especially with the game being so close. I don't want to see the Warriors resort to milking themselves, but the Refs need to stop being baited.

Warrior of the Match

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My Warrior of the match goes to Wayde Egan. I have been critical of the hooker this season, but this was Egans best game to date in a Warriors jersey. With Lodge and AFB rolling forward, Egan could use the running game I praised back when his signing was announced. He ran for 117m, set up that nice try for O'Sullivan and was involved heavily in defence. He took a knock and didn't get to finish the game, but if he can perform to this level consistently, then the Warriors spine might be quite dangerous in 2022.

Warrior to Improve

Copyright Photo: Getty Images

My Warriors to improve goes to Kodi Nikorima. Having to come on to replace Townsend in the halves was not was planned for Nikorima, and he had a start to forget, dropping the ball with his first touch. This saw him go into his shell as he offered very little after that, running the ball twice and not contributing to the kicking game. It's just not good enough for a player with his level of experience, and as harsh as it may be, I think his time with the Warriors is up; however, I don't see any club picking him up, so he will most likely be with the club next season. I think he could add something as the teams No.14, but if he needs to be relied on to replace a half, then the Warriors will be in trouble.

Next rounds thoughts and prediction

The final game of the Warriors season sees them return to Sunday afternoon football when they travel to Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast to face the Titans. The Warriors got the win in round 1, but I think the Titans will be harder this week. They still have a slim chance of making the eight, so you can expect a big performance out of them. With Townsend out, we should see Harris-Tavita and O'Sullivan combine in the halves. Hopefully, Egan is fit to start at hooker and in regards to the rest of the pack, I would move Tevaga into lock, drop Evans from the bench and put Sironen there or bring Jamayne Taunoa-Brown back. I hope the Warriors give us a great final performance here, but I think the Titans will be too strong at home, so I am picking the Titans to get the win by 10. 

Before I go, I just want to touch on the news that the Warriors may be spending the 2022 season in Australia. This would be devastating for the club and the fans here in New Zealand who have been starved of live football since August of 2019. I have my fingers crossed that this won't be the case, but it does not surprise me with everything happening on both sides of the Tasman with COVID.
There has been nothing official on this yet, so I will give more of my thoughts in a separate article once we have more information since I want to keep writing in the offseason.

So that's was an embarrassing Round 24, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

What are your thoughts about Browns team selections?
Who was your player to improve?
Do you think another year stuck in Oz will improve the Warriors?
What is your score prediction against the Titans?