NZ Bloggers #NZBloggers
>

Follow me on Facebook

Monday, 23 April 2018

NZ Warriors Round 7 Review: Intensity returns as Warriors hand Dragons first loss

Copyright Photo: Photosport
After their first loss of the season, the Warriors had their first taste of Friday Night Football as they hosted the undefeated St George Illawarra Dragons.
Questions were raised about the teams lack of intensity in the aftermath of their loss to the Broncos and fans and sceptics alike were eagerly awaiting Round 7 to see if the Warriors would bounce back or if Round 6 was the start of a slide.
Well, the Warriors regained their intensity and in front of a bumper crowd of 18,295 fans put on in my mind their best performance in 2018 with a 20-12 victory.

What a way to bounce back from a loss, on paper the Warriors shouldn't have won this match.
They only had 38% of the possession, an uneven 13-5 penalty count and 63 missed tackles but despite this, the Warriors always looked in control of this match and punished the Dragons whenever an opportunity popped up.
Injuries to Shaun Johnson and Solomona Kata meant they missed this match with Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling taking their spots and they both performed well, Gelling making up for his lacklustre ten minutes in round six and Lino continuing his fine form from his last appearance in round four.
An injury to Tohu Harris early on in the first half and a Blake Green sin-binning put extra pressure on the Warriors, but they rose to the challenge and shone.
The Dragons looked a shell of the dominant team they have been for the first 6 weeks of the season.
At times in this performance, they looked lost and out of ideas, the pressure the Warriors were able to put on them restricted their key players from playing the free-flowing football we have come to expect in 2018 which leads me to my positives from the game.

The forwards came to play, you really notice the difference when Bunty Afoa starts a match.
Bunty and Agnatius Paasi were vital in getting the Warriors sets moving forward, this lead to plenty of chances for Issac Luke to scoot out of dummy half against lazy markers, these easy metres were heavily required with the limited time the Warriors had with the ball.

The goal-line defence was another highlight for me.
The Warriors do continue to miss easy tackles outside of their own twenty-metre line, but once in the red zone, they have shown tremendous fortitude in holding out wave after wave of attack.
Every missed tackle is bad, however (more on that in my negatives) but in season past the Warriors would crumple on their own goal line so this change is encouraging.
A testament to this goal line defence is the fact that it took the Dragons nine minutes into Blakes Greens sin bin to finally cross for their first points of the match.

The team's fitness shined once again, with a three-man bench for the majority of the match the Warriors didn't lose a step in the late stages of the game and ending the game with an interchange still in play.
The team also returned to playing as a unit once again, and this pack mentality will need to be present week in and week out if they want to be a top-four side when playoffs begin.

It may have been the best performance in my opinion of the season, but it was far from a perfect performance which leads me to my negatives.

Those missed tackles are a huge concern, 63 missed tackles are far too many, and all players were guilty with  Ken Maumalo being the only Warrior to not miss a tackle.
If this trend continues the Warriors will be in for a rude awakening as the season progresses and the opposition start to improve as their combinations begin to gel.

Penalties are my other concern, 13 penalties are too many in my opinion, there was talk after the game from Paul McGregor where he suggested that perhaps giving away penalties is a tactic that the Warriors are using as a way to stop the opposition momentum.
Stephen Kearney denied this ploy but if it is what they are doing it is currently working, but the big question is for how long?
Teams may elect to take the easy two points and just starve the Warriors of possession and slowly build a lead two points at a time and go for tries when the sin bin inevitably comes.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warrior of the game goes to Issac Luke.
The year of Issac continues after another impressive showing from the veteran hooker.
This has been the best season of his career, and I think not being selected for the Kiwis for last years World Cup may have been a blessing in disguise for the Warriors as it may have been the wake-up call Issac needed.
Issac won this match for the Warriors with the one-two punch of a 40/20 (the Warriors forth of the season) which was quickly followed by his second try for the year.
Issac is a vital cog in the Warriors machine, and I have no doubt that he will be re-signed and continue to impress in 2018.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
No Warrior to improve again this week but I want to give Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling a mention this week.
Mason has eliminated the fear I use to have when Shaun Johnson wasn't playing, he is not a flashy player by any means, but he knows what he is capable of and gives 100% whenever he is given a chance to perform.
When Blake Green was sin-binned, I thought Mason shined, with his experience half partner gone he did not lose a step and directed the team around like he had been a regular in the side for years.
Talk of giving Mason Shaun's starting line up spot and forcing Shaun to earn it back is getting louder, and I hope that this spurns Shaun into some great performances when he returns.
I expect quite a few teams will be keeping an eye on Mason when his contract expires.

Now onto Gelling, I will admit I have been a fan of Gelling for a while as a Wigan Warriors tragic, and after talking him up all preseason, I have had my fair share of grief from friends after his dreadful showing against the Broncos.
As I said last week all Gelling needs is game time, no player can be expected to perform great when returning from Super League and only getting five minutes at the end of a game.
In his first start, he was solid, still a lot to work on but he defended well and used his size to create headaches for the defensive line.
He has the starting gig again this week so his real test will be to perform consistently and to give Kearney food for thought when it comes to selecting his starting centres for the rest of the season.

Round 8 finds the Warriors travelling to Melbourne for their annual Anzac day clash (please NRL how about giving the Warriors this fixture in New Zealand in the near future).
The Storm had a rough start to the season but have started to return the form that saw them go all the way last season.
The Storm always seems to step it up a gear on Anzac night and punish the Warriors.
However this week I am picking the Warriors to get the two points and win by 14 points.

So that was my take on an impressive Round 7, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Would you re-sign Issac Luke for next season?
What would you do with Mason Lino when Shaun is back from Injury?
Who would be your starting Lock?
What is your score prediction for Round 8?






Sunday, 15 April 2018

NZ Warriors Round 6 Review: Desperate Broncos dominate Warriors in first loss of 2018

Copyright Photo: www.warriors.kiwi
After an impressive showing against the North Queensland Cowboys, the New Zealand Warriors hosted the Brisbane Broncos in Round 6.
The Warriors were looking for their sixth consecutive win of the year while the Broncos were looking at breaking a two-game losing streak.
Unfortunately for the 16,636 fans in attendance, the Broncos came out on top with a 27-18 victory.

It was Old Boys day at Mount Smart on Saturday with a lot of the Warriors former players returning to the stadium, and in an ironic twist, the Warriors performed like the Warriors of old in a performance that sent me back to the dark times of 2017.
The Warriors appeared sluggish right from the first whistle, the Broncos were desperate, and it showed in their performance as they applied pressure to the Warriors for the majority of the match, and the Warriors just didn't respond in the way that fans have come to expect in 2018.

The reason for this? I cant say I know for sure.
Maybe the Warriors started to believe the hype after their 5-0 start, or perhaps the Bronco's started strong and rattled the New Zealand side and they just never managed to get their gameplan in motion.
Losing Leivaha Pulu early in the match with an ankle injury did not help matters as Pulu had been making dents in the Bronco's defensive line.
Solomone Kata also went off with an ankle injury late in the game giving Anthony Gelling more game time, but unfortunately, he had a night to forget with most things he tried failing (I believe he just needs game time, which he may now get with Kata's injury).
It's hard to say why the Warriors produced such a disappointing performance, and there isn't a lot to praise, but it wasn't all doom and gloom which leads me to my positives from the game.

As stated above there wasn't a lot of positives I found in this weeks performance, but I do take encouragement out of the fact that as dominant as the Broncos were and as mediocre as the Warriors were the Warriors managed to keep themselves in the match right until the final whistle.
I also think that in a team that performed sub-par Bunty Afoa, Agnatius Paasi and Ken Maumalo stood out as players that were seemingly trying to bend the Broncos defensive line.
My last positive is that at the end of the guy the team looked and acted disappointed with their performance.
I know that is a bizarre positive, but after years of feeling frustrated at seeing the Warriors smiling and joking after a poor performance it is refreshing to see the players feel a loss, this, in my opinion, bodes well for the bounceback that the Warriors now need to start.

I could go on and on about my negatives in this match, but I would prefer instead just to focus on my four most significant issues.

Firstly on at least four occasions, the Warriors left a kick to bounce (including one moment when Solomona Kata actually ran away from the ball instead of trying to catch it).
This is unacceptable at this level and must not happen again, allowing the ball to bounce immediately put the Warriors on the backfoot.

This brings me into my second issue, when the Broncos piled on the pressure the Warriors changed their game style and stopped playing as a team and started just running one out and producing a no hope grubber kick at the end of each set.
One of the reasons the Warriors have been performing well for the first five rounds was because they worked as a unit, tackling and running in a pack.
A key example of the Warriors playing for themselves instead of the team was when Issac kicked a grubber on the fourth tackle, it wasn't on, and he seemed to be the only player that knew the kick was coming so there was no one running onto it.

Shaun also had a quiet game where it felt like he didn't run the ball until the final 10-15 minutes, in Shaun's defence the Broncos defence prevented the forwards getting a roll on so there wasn't a tiring defensive line for Shaun to take advantage of.
His kicking game was also off, the grubbers mentioned above were lacklustre and presented no danger for Darius Boyd to defuse.
There was also a chip kick attempt out to David Fusitu'a that went out on the full, maybe if Shaun is having an off night as he did here Blake Green needs to step in and take over more than usual.

My last negative is the defence, the Warriors missed 38 tackles this round, and Corey Oates was having a field day with Peta Hiku and Tohu Harris missing four tackles each on that edge.
Missed tackles have been an issue all year, and with games against the Dragons and Storm in the next two rounds, they really need to reign that in.

All these issues are able to be addressed and worked on, and hopefully, this performance will be anomaly instead of a new trend.



Copyright Photo: www.warriors.kiwi
My Warrior of the game goes to Bunty Afoa.
It was close between Bunty and Agnatius, but Bunty got the edge with only one missed tackle compared to Paasi's four.
Bunty has impressed me immensely in 2018 with his high-intensity hit-ups and reliable defence in the middle.
He is a no-nonsense player that reminds me of the forwards of old and after a few seasons playing in the second row and lock Bunty has really relished returning to the front row.
I'm looking forward to having James Gavet returning and combining with Bunty in the middle getting that backline the roll on they sorely need.
I think the Warriors would have started this game a lot better if Bunty was starting and hopefully Stephen Kearney learns from this and lets him start against St George this week.


Copyright Photo: www.warriors.kiwi
The Warrior who needs to improve goes to Peta Hiku.
I feel like I'm highlighting Peta's defensive issues every week, and he now is second in the NRL for missed tackles with 30, averaging five missed tackles a game.
Yes, his combination with Tohu Harris and David Fusitu'a have been fruitful when the Warriors are on attack, but he needs to make changes as teams will target him as the weak link in the Warriors defensive chain.
With Solomona Kata's injury possibly keeping him on the sidelines for 4-6 weeks Peta will most likely be staying in his spot in the starting line up for the foreseeable future, so hopefully, he can get out of his jersey grabbing habits and bring his missed tackle average down.

Round 7 has the Warriors playing at Mount Smart once again with the undefeated St George Dragons coming into town.
The Dragons have been impressive this year and have always seemed to cause the Warriors issues in the past, so this is going to be an exciting encounter.
With Pulu's and Kata's injuries some changes will need to be made, and I think Stephen Kearney will move Mannering into the starting line up for a straight swap with Pulu and Anthony Gelling will be given the centre spot with Blake Ayshford and Gerald Beale still not being 100% yet.
This change will also open up two spots on the bench for Isaiah Papali'i and Ligi Sao to return as the Warriors will need their size on the bench to combat the large Dragons pack.
The Warriors will be looking at getting back to the victory circle and need to make a statement that Round 6  was a one-off and what better statement is there than dealing the Dragons their first loss of the year.
Unfortunately, I don't see this happening as I have picked the Dragon's to win here by 10 points.

So that was a disappointing Round 6, but as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Who would you bring in for Pulu and Kata?
What is your biggest concern from the Round 6 performance?
Why do you think the Warriors seemed sluggish right from kickoff?
What is your score prediction for Round 7?












Monday, 9 April 2018

NZ Warriors Round 5 Review: Dream start continues with Cowboys defeat

Copyright Photo: www.foxsports.com.au
After two weeks playing away, the Warriors finally returned home to a sold out Mount Smart Stadium with an impressive 4-0 record to face a North Queensland Cowboys desperate to return to the winner's circle.
This was not to be as the Warriors welcomed back club hero Simon Mannering with a 22-12 victory to go 5-0 for the season.

It's hard for me to describe what it was like to be sitting in a sold-out crowd at Mount Smart once again and I really hope it continues. Having a doubleheader did help boost the crowd, but I hope the game day crowd continues to flock to the stadium for the next two weeks as the Warriors enjoy their current vein of form.
Teams across the Tasman are starting to take notice of the Warriors now and they should, the Warriors still have a lot of improvement in them but took the fight to the Cowboys and got the job done which leads me into my positives from the game.

The Warriors fitness still continues to shine, from start to finish the Warriors kept on top of the Cowboys, on last tackle kicks the Warriors were up in the kick returners face and had already set the defensive line before most of the Cowboys were even back onside.
The forwards have continued to look sharp with Bunty Afoa impressing me again with strong runs, Leivaha Pulu and Tohu Harris have added so much to this sides attacking potential and this created opportunities for Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo, Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a to wreck havoc on the Cowboy's edges.
Simon Mannering returned on the bench, and once he was out there it was like he never left, the Warriors defence is still at times patchy, but with Simon back I believe this will improve impressively.
The goal-line defence is still a stand out for me, the Warriors ability to hold out repeat sets is going to help them go a long way this season, there is still issues (more on that in my negatives) but nothing that is a significant concern.

The Warriors spine continues to impress me, Shaun and Blake are working so well together.
Issac Luke is taking advantage of the great work being done by the forwards and punishing lazy defenders with some sniping dummy half runs.
Roger is growing into his captaincy and improves each and every week, he had a quiet night but still had an excellent performance, and his enthusiasm is clearly infectious and rubbing off on the rest of the squad.
This side is genuinely playing for one another, no one seems to be just playing for themselves anymore.
A good example of this was when Solomone Kata made a break and set Ken Maumalo up for his try, I can honestly say that if that happened last year, Kata would have tried to beat the fullback and go alone.
If this attitude sticks for the rest of the season, then it is going to be a fruitful 2018.

The bench impressed once again, Jazz Tevaga, Simon Mannering and Sam Lisone all contributed immensely with the minutes they were given.
Anthony Gelling only got a few minutes at the end of the game, so I can't really judge his performance, but he was really just on the bench as cover for Roger in case his arm wasn't up to scratch.

Many Pundits across the ditch keep trying to predict when the wheels will fall off the Warriors 2018 season but I believe that this side is a legitimate threat in 2018, and right now as fans all we can do is enjoy the ride.

As I said above, there is still improvement to be had which leads me to my negatives.
Once again I don't have too many negatives to point out, but I did notice a couple of slight concerns.
The Warriors let two soft tries through with a couple of poor decisions made, but the edge isn't as much as a liability as it has been in the past so im confident they will fix this.

At times it seemed that the Warriors were rushing which lead to errors, perhaps they were a little excited performing in front of a large hometime crowd, but it felt like they just needed to slow down and get back into the gameplan they had.
If the large crowds continue to flock to Mount Smart im sure the team will be able to keep their nerves in check.
This team has points in them they just need to keep moving forward, and the points will come, no game is won in the first ten minutes but the platform set early on will make the trip to victory a lot smoother.

My last negative is the errors, there were too many errors this week, with tough games coming up the Warriors need to cut back on unforced errors to give themselves the best chance to keep their unbeaten streak going.

Copyright Photo: www.sportingnews.com
My Warrior of the game goes to David Fusitu'a.
What a season David is having, scoring a double in this match takes him to seven so far for the season and leading the comp in tries scored and is already over halfway to his try tally last season.
David has been a constant threat, whether going through the air or running down the edge, it really doesn't matter he knows how to get over the line.
I may be counting my chickens before they hatch, but I think he is well on his way to scoring 20+ tries this year and staying the leading try scorer in the NRL this season.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
No Warrior to improve again this week, so I want to highlight Bunty Afoa this week.
Bunty has been a wrecking ball this year, running big metres every match regardless of if he is starting or playing from the bench.
With James Gavet missing the last two matches due to injury Bunty has really stepped up and added much-needed punch up the middle.
I am hopeful that he can continue to perform at this level and if he does I find it hard for any of the forwards waiting in the wings to take his spot in the game day 17.

Round 6 has the Warrior again at home, this time facing the Brisbane Broncos.
The Broncos have had a rocky start in 2018, and I don't see them improving this round either.
Their halves are lacking cohesion, and the team does not appear to be working well together, so I feel that they are in a rough night hopefully in front of another sellout crowd.
Last week I can proudly say I got the correct margin in my prediction for the first time this season, so fingers crossed I can do it again this week.
Im picking the Warriors to go 6-0 and win this match by 12 points.
So that was my take on a great Round 5 performance, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Do you think the sell out crowds will continue?
Would you start Simon Mannering this week?
Was there any player that you think needs to improve after their Round 5 performance?
What is your score prediction for Round 6?