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Monday, 26 March 2018

NZ Warriors Round 3 Review: New attitude shines through in historic victory

Copyright Photo: David Neilson/ Photosport
After their 2-0 season start the Nz Warriors ventured to the Australian Capital to face the 0-2 Canberra Raiders.
The Warriors have never started a season 3-0 and very seldom taste victory in Canberra but this is no longer the Warriors of old, and they created a breathtaking come from behind victory to win 20-19.

Wow, this was indeed a heart in mouth game to witness.
My emotions were all over the place, but unlike 2017 I had the belief that the Warriors could come from behind and get the win.
This leads me to my positives from the match.

The attitude and self-belief this team has is fantastic, they were never ahead on the scoreboard until the dying seconds, but they kept their kept heads up and kept pushing forward.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck with more try saving antics on the goal line just showed the passion that is flowing from this team.
It took repeat penalties (More on that in my negatives), and the Warriors being reduced to twelve men for the Raiders to get over the try line.
10 minutes into the match the Warriors were 12-0 down, the Warriors had been tackling for what seemed an age but it was the Raiders that started to look tired, this was evident when the Warriors charged down the field and scored on only their second opportunity with the ball in hand.
The Warriors defence was still patchy, but when someone dropped off a tackle, there was another player ready to clean up.
This Raiders side reminded me a lot of the 2017 Warriors, with about twenty minutes to go the Raiders started trying to protect their lead instead of adding to it, and much like the 2017 Warriors they watched the opposition catch up and pass them.
There were several games last year like this match where the Warriors needed to set up and nail a field goal, but Shaun Johnson and the team did not get themselves in position correctly and looked lost.
Well, this team learnt from those lessons, and with two minutes on the clock, they didn't rush or panic they were composed and charged down the field and Shaun slotted the required field goals with relative ease.
A special mention needs to go to Sam Lisone who stayed on his feet on the last tackle to achieve the quick play the ball needed to give Shaun that extra time to ensure his kick would be accurate.

The forwards ran hard and fast again and really set the platform, Bunty Afoa, and Jazz Tevaga showed enormous impact from the bench, I like Sam Cook, but I think Jazz offers more to the side with Issac playing 80 minutes again.
Shaun didn't run as much as he did in rounds one and two but he also didn't overplay his hand, Tohu Harris was causing all kinds of problems for the Raiders edge, so you cant really blame Shaun for just getting him the ball in space.
Shaun delivered when the Warriors needed him most, and you cant ask for much more than that.

Fitness shined through yet again, the Raiders were clearly gassed very early on in the second half, and the Warriors looked like they could have continued playing for another half.
If upcoming games are as tight as this then that fitness level could easily prove the difference between a win or loss.

However, we have yet to see a perfect performance from this Warriors side which leads me to my negatives for Round 3.

Penalties, I feel like I could save a template for my review and have penalties as my top negative as the Warriors are conceding far too many still.
In the first ten minutes, the Warriors conceded 6 penalties, and the sin-binning of Adam Blair put the Warriors on the backfoot.
If the Warriors were playing the Storm or the Cowboys, this could have easily have cost them more than 12 points.

The defence needs work, as much as I like what Peta Hiku has been offering on attack, his defence is really letting him down.
Peta is missing far too many tackles on his edge, with Gerald Beale returning from injury soon and Blake Ayshford waiting in the wings if he doesn't show improvement quick he may find himself relegated to the reserve grade.

Fortunately these issues the Warriors currently have are easy to work on and if they can iron these kinks out, they are going to be tough to beat.

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My Warrior of the game for the second week in a row goes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Roger continues to put his body on the line for this team, the enthusiasm he shows after making these big tackles is infectious.
He leads the Warriors in running metres and line breaks, and I don't see any signs of him slowing down.
This is the best Roger has been since signing with the Warriors and with Roger, Blake Green and Shaun Johnson controlling this backline the Warriors are always going to be dangerous with the ball in hand.

Copyright Photo: Mark Nolan / Getty Images
My Warrior who needs to improve is Adam Blair.
With the Warriors conceding back to back penalties and the referee warning Roger that if the Warriors continued to infringe that he would send someone to the bin, the last thing an experienced player like Adam should have done was throw a late hit at Aiden Sezer.
If Adam had not been sin-binned, I don't believe the Raiders would have scored the 12 points they did, and the Warriors would have run away with an easy win.
I do like the pressure Adam brings to the opposition halves on fifth tackle options, but he needs to find a better balance.

Round four has the Warriors travelling to Sydney to face the 2-1 Sydney Roosters.
This is going to be the biggest challenge the Warriors have faced in 2018 so far.
The Roosters looked rusty in round one but have really started to mesh, and with new recruit Cooper Cronk leading the side they are going to be tough for the Warriors to overcome.
After being sited Adam Blair and Sam Lisone have both plead guilty, and Adam is available to play, but Sam is suspended for the match, so I assume Albert Vete will be coming in for Sam.
Call me an optimist, but I'm picking the Warriors to claim victory here by four.

So that was an exciting Round 3, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Who was your player of the day?
What is your biggest concern in the Warriors performances to date?
Who would you bring in to replace Sam Lisone?
What are your score predictions for the Warriors Roosters clash?

Monday, 19 March 2018

NZ Warriors Round 2 Review: Warriors continue winning ways in Mt Smart return

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After their first-ever win in Perth, the Warriors made the journey home to Mount Smart Stadium for the first time in 2018 to face the Gold Coast Titans.
Buoyed by their first-round performance and their impressive record against the Titans the Warriors came into round two as heavy favourites and followed through never looking in danger with a resounding 20-8 victory.

The Warriors continued from where they left off in round one, and it is hard to deny that it wasn't exciting to watch them play "Warriors Football" again live which leads me into my positives from the match.

The Offloads are back!!!
28 offloads in this match was a sight to behold for this Warriors fan, sometimes I think the Warriors offloaded in situations where it may have been better to just take the tackle, but it was nice to see them throw the ball around with confidence.
Even though they started the match slowly, they were always in control, even with only 43% of the possession they were able to keep the pressure on the Titans who sorely missed Ashley Taylor.
Tohu Harris was a handful for the entire match and has already made an impressive combination with Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a on the right edge.
Speaking of which David Fusitu'a had another strong outing scoring another two tries to take his 2018 tally up to four.
The forwards impressed me again, hitting the defensive line with intent and always threating to create second phase football.
With Isaiah Papalii getting injured in the early stages of the first half the interchange forwards was relied on for more minutes, and they delivered.
If the Warriors are to cement themselves at the top of the table, the forwards will need to continue tormenting the opposition without letting up.
Blake Green continues to impress me, Ryan James was quoted in the post-match press conference saying that he believes Blake is the Warriors best ever signing.
That's a big call but so far he has performed well above my already lofty preseason expectation of him, and long may it continue.
I was also impressed that the Warriors didn't seem to let up, in years past the Warriors have been guilty of letting their foot off the gas when they appeared to be cruising towards a win.
This year so far they have been pushing forward from start to finish trying to convert any opportunity into points.
They also kept their heads in the game, their new huddle is working wonders so far, at the 76-minute mark when the Titan finally managed to score a try the Warriors didn't drop their heads, they focussed and made sure it was the last try the Titans got.
If the Warriors can keep this level consistently and work on some finetuning, I believe that they are going to cause a lot of headaches for their upcoming opponents.
Finetuning leads me to my negatives.
This was not a perfect performance by any means, but the weak parts of the Warriors performance can be worked on and improved which is a good situation for the Warriors to be in.
Penalties are still an issue, they were penalised less this round but giving a more quality side easy possession and field position could cause a lot of grief for the Warriors.
Errors and missed tackles need to be reduced substantially, but they did make an improvement on Round one's effort, so they are at least heading in the right direction.
The Titans had three tries disallowed by the bunker, It would have been interesting to see how the Warriors would have reacted if those tries were allowed.
How would they react if they had to play catch up football?
We may find that out as that situation may still arise in the upcoming months, but Im hopeful that they are able to stay composed when they behind on the scoreboard.
There wasn't too much more that I could crack down on.
To be honest, you may have seen more if you were watching from home as I find watching the game live at the ground I do tend to miss a few things so let me know if I have missed any negatives that need to be worked on.

Copyright Photo: Photosport
My Warrior of the game goes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
What a start to the season Roger has had, the stats speak for themselves.
232 running metres from 26 runs, 3 line breaks and 5 offloads.
Roger had a field day in his return to Mount Smart and was continually threatening the Titans defensive line.
With his contract situation all finalised in the offseason, it has allowed him to focus on performing on the field and leading this team.
Roger is still a young captain and likes to lead by example, and the pride and passion he is playing with currently is infectious, and I feel that his 2018 can only get better.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
It was hard to pick a player to name my player who needs to improve, but I have gone with Peta Hiku.
This was not an easy selection as Peta had an excellent game with the ball in hand but on the defensive side of the game, he still left a lot to be desired.
Too many times Peta jersey grabbed when going in for the tackle instead of going for the man and this lead to several missed tackles.
Peta is a proving a good centre to pair with David Fusitu'a he just needs to get his defensive effort to match his attack if he can do that he will be well on the well to avoiding my player to improve chapter for the rest of the season.

For the first time since 2009, the Warriors are 2-0, and they make their way to Canberra to face the 0-2 Raiders.
The Warriors have never started a season 3-0, and their record in Canberra is mediocre (3 wins in 15 appearances), but I feel that this is the Warriors team that can set the new starting record for the club and im picking them to win by 8.
The Raiders have looked competitive in defeat so far this season and will push the Warriors to their limit in what should be an exciting encounter that I am looking forward too.

So that was a promising Round 2, and so far I am happy with the way the Warriors are progressing, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Who was your player of the day?
What is your biggest concern right now?
How big a loss is Isaiah Papalii?
What is your score prediction for the round 3 match with the Raiders?

Monday, 12 March 2018

NZ Warriors Round 1 Review: Impressive Warriors vanquish Perth Curse

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The Vodafone Warriors made the long journey to Perth to kick off their 2018 campaign.
A long history of disappointment plagued the Warriors in Western Australia, and many predicted this misery would continue as the Warriors faced the South Sydney Rabbitohs in Round One.
However, this was not to be as the Warriors, looking a completely different side to the Woeful Warriors of 2017 started their season off strong with a 32-20 victory.

What a way to start the season, saying that the Warriors have changed from last season is not an exaggeration.
First the Positives.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck set the platform with a fantastic ball and all tackle to prevent Alex Johnston from scoring in the corner in the early stages of the match.
Blake Green controlled the game with relative ease behind a forward pack that was gaining metres, this allowed Shaun Johnson to run freely, and the Rabbitohs paid the price.
Shaun can cut teams to ribbons when he is allowed to play his natural game and Blake being there has finally granted him this freedom.
When Shaun is running it opens up so many options for other players to break the line and put the Warriors in scoring opportunities as the opposition don't know if Shaun is going to go himself or put someone through a hole, either way, it sets the Warriors in a strong position to win any game.
The Forwards fronted and set the platform needed to unleash the damaging backline, Sam Lisone was strong off the bench and even scored his first try for the club.
James Gavet continued his form from 2017, and Adam Blair, Leivaha Pulu and Bunty Afoa all performed their roles well, and this pack can only improve with the like of Simon Mannering returning from injury in a (hopefully) a few weeks.
David Fusitu'a continued his World Cup form scoring a nice double, and Ken Maumalo and Solomone Kata both scored, admittingly they still have issues, but it is hard to deny that when given the opportunity they know how to cross that try line.
The Warriors fitness has definitely improved, and you could see the Rabbitohs were waiting for the final 20minutes to come so the Warriors would start to slide again like they have done for so long.
But when the Warriors kept coming at them with no signs of slowing down the frustration set in and this lead to the Rabbitohs making more errors.
The Warriors were a unit, they were all on the same page and playing for each other.
They will need to live and breath this new mentality if they want to be playing finals football.
I am a fan of the new huddle they have started doing after each score, together as a team doing deep breaths, centring and focusing on the job at hand.
It is only Round one, and there is a long season ahead of them but if they keep their performances consistently at the level they performed in Perth then it may well be a fruitful year for the New Zealand side.

There is still a lot of work to be done in the upcoming months though which leads me to my negatives from the match.
The penalty count was far too high in the first half.
 I didn't agree with some of those penalties, but if the ref is calling tackles early, the Warriors need to adjust and act accordingly.
Giving away silly penalties and awarding the opposition repeat sets can derail any great performance, so they need to reign that in.
Solomona Kata's sin bin was a bit unfair, but ultimately it did not affect the game that much, but if the game was a bit closer they could have been in trouble.
That left edge defence is still suspect and caused a few heart palpitations in my household when Kata or Maumalo rushed out of the line early and left a gaping hole so some refining in that area will make a Warriors victory more attainable.
Overall though it was a great way to start the season and set a platform for the remainder of the season.
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My Warrior of the game goes to Issac Luke, this was Issac's best performance since he signed with the club.
In 2017 Issac had arguably his worse season, he was overweight and sluggish, and it paid a toll on his performance.
Going into the final year of his contract Issac needed to make changes, and he really has, 6kgs lighter and sniping out of dummy-half like he used to was a welcome sight for sore eyes.
If he can continue to perform at the level he displayed in round one then he is going to provide a lethal component to the Warriors attacking arsenal.

Copyright Photo: Photosport
Typically I would have a Warrior that needs to improve, but this week I couldn't pinpoint any player that played poorly enough to be named and shamed.
What I do want to do is mention Isaiah Papali'i.
Isaiah just narrowly missed out on being my Warrior of the game, it's hard to believe that he is still only nineteen years old.
With Simon Mannering out, Isaiah has been given the opportunity in the starting side and taken it with both hands.
This kid has a truckload of potential and the fact that he has Simon Mannering and Tohu Harris to learn from only bodes well for his future and I look forward to watching him grow as a player in the years to come.

Round two finds the Warriors playing at home for the first time this season on St Patrick's day against the Gold Coast Titans.
The Warriors have arranged a St Patricks day theme which should make for an entertaining day and im looking forward to it.
The Titans haven't had the best track record against the Warriors, and I don't see them getting a win here and im picking the Warriors to win by 20.
With it being my birthday tomorrow I hope the Warriors help me out with my prediction and give me a great win on Saturday.

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

Who was your player of the day?
What was the most pleasing aspect of this performance for you?
Are there any changes you would make to the line up for Round 2?
What is your score prediction for the Warriors first home game?

Friday, 2 March 2018

NZ Warriors 2018 Season Preview: The Season of Redemption or Ruin?

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It feels like an age since I’ve written about the Warriors but finally the NRL Season is upon us and I cannot wait for Round One.
This time of year also means its time for me to give my thoughts on how the Warriors will fare in their 2018 campaign.
As I did last year, I will be breaking my preview into sections outlining my views on the preseason news and trial results, new signings, the 2018 squad, my game day 17, the team's strengths and weaknesses and then finalising it all with my 2018 prediction.
As always, this is all just my own thoughts and opinions, and they are still up for debate.
I would love to start a discussion on here so if you want to share your thoughts, comment below and let me know what you think.

Preseason News: Changes made as Fan's turn away
2017 left a bitter taste in my mouth, nine losses in a row to finish out the season yet again in the bottom eight.
The fans showed their dissatisfaction with the Warriors with their wallets seeing a substantial drop in memberships (As of posting the Warriors member numbers are increasing).
I too was so disillusioned by the lacklustre performance from the Warriors that I couldn’t even complete a 2017 season review, but those that dwell on the past are doomed to repeat it so let’s focus on 2018.

The Warriors had to go back to the drawing board yet again and make changes to the 2018 season.
One of the most consistent complaints about the Warriors is a lack of fitness, so they brought in renowned trainer Alex Corvo as the new strength and conditioning coach.
They also brought Brian Smith in as the Director of Football to help Stephen Kearney with the day to day actions at the club so Stephen can focus on the actual coaching duties.
The Roster also saw quite a lot of changes with a lot of players moving on as well as many coming in (more on the recruits later on).
Gone are experienced players like Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Ryan Hoffman and Bodene Thompson.
Fan Favorite Charlie Gubb found himself a new home in Canberra, and the Foran experiment can be classed as a failure as he quickly moved to the Bulldogs (In my opinion he mentally never left Sydney).
For me however the most disappointing loss was Toafofoa Sipley, I believe that there is a lot of potential in what Sipley can bring to a side and Manly thought so too snatching him up quickly.

Clearly changes needed to be made and Stephen Kearney (be it his choice or CEO Cameron George's is up for debate) has made them.
I think the best move the Warriors have made is the recruiting of Brian Smith and Alex Corvo.
Smith has so much knowledge and experience that he can provide the club and if he can help shape Kearney into the coach this side needs to succeed, then I am all for it.

With the World Cup ending 2017, there was no Nines this preseason, so the Warriors only had two trials.
The first trial in Rotorua saw a Warriors side without the majority of their top tire players defeat the Melbourne Storm without any players of note (effectively a third-string team) 20-14.
There isn't much to say about this match, the Warriors started slow but never looked to be troubled by the understrength Storm.
If I were to take anything away from this match it would be the combination between Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a, these two gelled together quite well, and I look forward to seeing this combination in the regular season.

Peta Hiku / Copyright Photo:

The second trial saw a Warriors team with most of their stars back travel to the Sunshine Coast to face the Gold Coast Titans.
The Warriors won this match 20-14 in a good showing for the top sides first game together, the improved fitness showed most notably in a 10-15 minute stretch where the Warriors were stuck defending on their goal line.
The combination between Shaun Johnson and Blake Green looks promising, and the addition of Tohu Harris to the right edge of Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a leaves me excited for the highlight reel we may well get from David in 2018.
The game wasn't perfect, the Warriors had some issues with holding onto the ball and giving away easy penalties, but hopefully, these issues are dealt with before Round One.

In the last week of the preseason, the Warriors announced that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck re-signed with the club for another 4 seasons.
They also issued a statement that they granted Ata Hingano his request to be released as well as announcing the signing of Titans utility Karl Lawton and the upgrades on the contracts of Sam Cook and Hayze Perham.

I was surprised that Roger re-signed for 4 years, I was confident that he would stay, but I expected only a two-year extension.
I'm thrilled that Roger is here to stay for the foreseeable future, he is young, a hell of a talent and is a critical component of this Warriors side and with the contract signed before the season officially starts it means he can just focus on football.

I don't know anything about Karl Lawton other than his ability to play in several conditions, but it adds to the squad depth with Ata leaving and Nataniel Roache's injury.
Sam Cook and Hayze Perham are both very talented youngsters, and their contract upgrades show that the Warriors view them favourably in their future plans and I look forward to seeing what they can contribute in seasons to come.

Lastly, my take on Ata leaving.
In my opinion, he is not ready to be a starting half in the NRL.
If the rumours are correct and he is going to join the Canberra Raiders, I am even more confused as I don't see him getting a start over Blake Austin, Aiden Sezer or even Sam Williams.
Talks of one of those players moving to hooker are doubtful as the Raiders signed former Warrior Siliva Havilli as injury cover.
Learning from an experienced half like Blake Green could have done wonders for Ata, but like a lot of young players now he had no patience and will have to sink or swim.
I wish him all the best and hope it works out for him.

Key Signing: Alex Corvo
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For the first time ever in my season previews my key signing is not a player but the new Strength and Conditioning coach Alex Corvo.
Largely touted as the best head trainer in the NRL the signing of Alex Corvo was a coup for the Warriors.
Looking into his stats, only one club has missed the playoffs in the 15 years he has been in charge at the Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos not to forget his work with the Kangaroos and Queensland State of Origin sides.
The training appears to be working, the squad looks in great shape especially Issac Luke who seems to have dropped a lot of his excess weight and gained some of his quickness around the ruck area back.

Alex's tough approach to training is just what the Warriors need, not only to get them in terrific shape but training them to perform while fatigued.
This is the key, in my opinion, too many times the Warriors have surrendered a lead or conceded points in the dying stages of a game when they were gassed.
Performing consistently at a top level for 80 minutes every week is what separates the top teams from the pack and Alex will hopefully make all the difference for the 2018 Season.

2018 Squad
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With the exodus of talent that left at the end of 2017, the Warriors brought in ten new players to increase the depth.
Some of the new recruits (Tohu Harris, Adam Blair and Blake Green) will be slotted straight into the starting line up, while the rest will be competing for spots and that will hopefully bring out the best in the entire squad.
The likes of Solomona Kata may find his form from a few seasons ago now that there are the likes of Peta Hiku, Gerard Beale and Anthony Gelling pushing for spots in the backline.
Overall I think the squad looks good, I praised the potential of the 2017 spine, and I believe that Blake Green is going to contribute a lot more to this side than Foran did while on his New Zealand holiday.
The backline has the potential to score a lot of points, but the forwards really need to pack a punch up front.
Last season's standouts James Gavet and Simon Mannering now have help with the likes of Tohu Harris, Agnatius Paasi and Leivaha Pulu bolstering the pack.
As is usually the case the Warriors need to convert the impressive team on paper into a great team on the field.

My Gameday 17

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck                     14. Jazz Tevaga
2. David Fusitu'a                                15. James Gavet
3. Peta Hiku                                       16. Agnatius Paasi
4. Blake Ayshford                              17. Anthony Gelling
5. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Until Gerard Beale returns from injury)
6. Blake Green
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Adam Blair
9. Issac Luke
10. Sam Lisone
11. Leivaha Pulu
12. Tohu Harris
13. Simon Mannering

Strengths and Weaknesses

The most apparent strength for this side is their back line and spine.
If the Warriors can unleash David Fusitu'a and he can continue his World Cup form, then they will at least be exciting to watch.
Blake Green's addition to the spine is like the final piece of the puzzle; essentially Blake is going to lead this team around the park and let Shaun Johnson loose to do what he does best.
Watching their first outing together it seems that Kearney has given up on the one half on each side of the field and letting them work together in tandem, which is the right way to go.

The weaknesses for this side is their defence and penalties, last year their left edge was a turnstile and an embarrassment, but if they move Blake Ayshford into Solomona Kata's position, this could improve this dramatically.
One thing I noticed in the Titans trial match was the silly penalties the Warriors gave away, if the Warriors continue to give the opposition easy metres then it is going to be a long season.

My 2018 Prediction

My prediction last year was way off when I picked the Warriors to finish the regular season 6th.
A lot of the NRL pundits in Australia have already written the Warriors off with some even picking the Warriors to get their first-ever Wooden Spoon this season.
I think these picks are off and I'm picking the Warriors to finally return to the playoffs and finish the regular season 7th.

So let's bring on the new season, I cannot wait for Round one as it has been far too long.
I will once again be writing game reviews every week throughout the season, and I'm looking forward to talking to all of you throughout the year.
If you like what I'm doing here, please share my blog around with your friends and leave comments telling me how you think the season is going.
As I did last year, I will end with some questions so let me know your answers, and I will talk to you again soon.

What are your thoughts on the release of Ata Hingano?
Where do you think the Warriors will finish the 2018 season?
What changes would you make to my gameday 17?
Who is your key signing?