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Monday, 18 June 2018

NZ Warriors Round 15 Review: Grit shines through in Townsville win

Copyright Photo: Ian Hitchcock / Getty Images
After a successful journey down to Christchurch, the Warriors had one more stop on their road trip as they made their way to Townsville to face the struggling Cowboys.
History hasn't been kind to the Warriors in Townsville with only one win in the past 12 visits but as the Warriors have shown throughout 2018 poor records don't matter as they came away with a 23-16 victory.
The Warriors lost the NRL's leading try scorer David Fusitu'a after a rolled ankle at the captains run but did welcome back captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in an impressive solo showing.

Round 15 was the cliche game of two halves with the Warriors dominating the majority of the first half and the Cowboys turning the momentum in their favour in the second.
It wasn't pretty by any means, but I loved this game, I had concerns with aspects of the performance but for the Warriors to hold onto their lead against a desperate Cowboys side playing for their season showed fight that has long been absent from this Warriors squad pre 2018, this leads me to my positives for the match.

Once again the Warriors fitness shined through in this performance, for essentially the last 30 minutes of the match the Warriors were on the back foot defending repeated line dropouts and attacks on their line.
The Warriors still missed a lot of tackles, but they made the ones that counted which is a trend they will need to continue as they track towards their first postseason since 2011.

The Warriors contained the JT'S for the majority of the match, and if you can keep Johnathan Thurston and Jason Taumalolo relatively quiet, you have won half the battle.
Taumalolo was still damaging with his runs, but the Warriors were able to restrict his second phase play and hold him from any big runs within their red zone.
They also kept the pressure on Thurston for the entire match, and it showed with Thurston looking lost at several times throughout the game.
The injury to Michael Morgan midway through the first half didn't help him, but it was good to see the Warriors heap pressure onto the star half without getting anyone sent to the bin which was a key concern of mine before the game.

The Warriors showed smart gameplay in the dying stages of the match, with the Cowboys really starting to gain momentum the Warriors took one of the few opportunities they had to slot a field goal to stretch there lead out to seven with a few minutes to go.
This took all the air out of the Cowboys sail and sealed yet another road win.
If the Warriors continue to notch away victories like this, they have a great chance of securing a home finals match.

The second half was a bit of a mess to watch at times however which leads me to my negatives.

The handling errors were coach killers this round with the worse two that spring to my mind being Peta Hiku's drop from a Beale flick pass and Solomona Kata's bobble as he was crossing over the try line.
Kata's was probably the worse error as he bombed a sure try and injured himself in the process which may see him miss a few rounds.

The penalties were still too high for my liking, but I think part of that was due to the poor referring by Henry Penenara, who I believe had a shocker making several poor calls for both sides.
The Warriors need to play according to whoever is in control of the whistle, if they can do this they will be in good stead to continue their winning ways.

With the playoffs nearing the Warriors just need to iron out the kinks in their basics, it's not a hard formula, if you have a low error rate and penalty count, this decreases the possession your opponents get and this, in turn, increases the chances you have to score points.
The 2018 Warriors have shown that they can tussle with the tops sides when their mind is in the game, they just need to ensure they do this consistently as they hit the backend of the season.

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My Warrior of the game goes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
After missing last weeks game Roger really didn't miss a beat setting up Ken Maumalo and Solomona Kata's tries and scoring perhaps his best try in years where he ran for 70metres and turned Michael Morgan inside out with his patented step.
Roger is having a stellar season and has really grown into his captaincy, he shows so much fire and intensity of both attack and defence that really lift the performances of the players around him.
If he can continue to perform at this level this season, I believe he will be in talks for the Dally M at the end of the season.

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My Warrior who needs to improve goes to Issac Luke.
Please put down the pitchforks and let me explain.
Issac has been one of the better performers for the Warriors in 2018 and is still, in my opinion, the glue that holds this side together.
However in this match, I think his biggest issue was that he was trying too hard, he was trying to do everything that he has been doing all year, but this time it just wasn't coming off, and he made a lot of errors.
This was a blip on the radar, and I don't see it happening again, I think he may have just been pushing a bit too hard as a one last ditch effort to cement his spot in the upcoming Kiwi's test (congratulations to Issac, Ken and Peta for their Kiwi's call-ups).
In Round 17 when Issac returns from being rested after the test I fully expect Issac to be back at his best, destroying teams with his sniping dummy half runs.

With the NRL having a week off for the international tests and the second State of Origin the Warriors that are not involved the tests have some more time to rest and recuperate before returning to Mount Smart to face the Cronulla Sharks in Round 16.
Both sides have had similar seasons, and the matchup is going to be a close one.
The Warriors are only losing three players from this match due to the Kiwi's test in Denver and Kata will most likely not be available due to his injury, but hopefully, all the players that will be playing for Samoa and Tonga will come through those matches injury free and be available.

If the Warriors can treat Andrew Fifita the same way they did with Jason Taumalolo they have a great chance of getting the win here however without Issac at dummy half, it is going to be tough.
I'm predicting another Warriors win here this time by 8 points.

So that was my take on a tough Round 15 win, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Who was your player of the Round?
Who as your player to improve?
How do you see the Kiwi's going in Denver?
What is your score prediction for Round 16 against the Sharks?

Monday, 11 June 2018

NZ Warriors Round 14 Review: Warriors celebrate Johnson's 150th in style

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After a much-needed bye week, a well rested Warriors side made the journey down to Christchurch to face the Manly Sea Eagles.
The Sea Eagles have had an edge of the Warriors for a long time having won the past seven matchups between the sides.
The Warriors, however, paid no attention to the past and put on an impressive show for the NRL starved south island crowd defeating the Sea Eagles 34-14.

What a way to bounce back from the heavy defeat to the Rabbitohs in Round 12.
The Warriors were missing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck which saw Peta Hiku shift to fullback and Gerard Beale come into the centres but welcomed back Shaun Johnson in what was his 150th match for the Warriors and he played like he hadn't missed a step in his lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Overall the whole team played well, and the lift in attitude and effort was visibly noticeable which leads me to my positives from the games.

The forwards came to play, I have talked at length for the past month about the pack not all pulling their weight and how difficult winning games is when the forwards are getting a roll on, and they improved ten fold in this match.
The front row was pushing the defensive line on almost all their hit ups, and the Sea Eagles struggled to contain Isaiah Papali'i and Tohu Harris on the edges.
They also backed this up defensively restricting the Sea Eagles opportunities for the majority of the match, if the forwards can consistently perform at this level the chances of a top-four finish increase dramatically.

The back three were at their rampaging best with Hiku performing well in Roger's place, but the kudos really need to go to Ken Maumalo and hat-trick hero David Fusitu'a who were continually causing headaches for the Manly side.
Ken has really grown this year, and I think David is by far one of the best wingers in the NRL right now and I think he is a sure bet to stay the leading try scorer this season as he took his tally up to fifteen.

Even with the absence of RTS the spine really clicked, Mason Lino has done a solid job filling in, but man is it great to see Shaun and Blake reunite.
With Blake quietly leading the side around the park Shaun was able to pick his moments and strike when he saw an opening, this Warriors side is a handful on defence when Shaun is in a running mood, and long may it continue.
The Warriors were a lot more clinical in this performance with a lot less nonforced errors, and after a slow start the Warriors piled on 34 unanswered points and looked ready to keep the points coming which is what they are going to need to do as they start the journey to improve their points differential.

And lastly I just want to commend the Christchurch crowd, it sounded like there was a great atmosphere and you could really hear the Warriors support through the television screen.
I'm jealous I was unable to come down for the game, but the next time the Warriors play in Christchurch I will be going for sure.

I've watched the game a few times since Saturday night, and I struggled to highlight many issues, and it is mainly hair-splitting, but no performance is perfect which leads me to my negatives.

The missed tackles still concern me, although they didn't lead to a lot of points for Manly, but against a top-four side, the 44 missed tackles could have forced a tighter contest.
I would like to say it is a work in progress but the missed tackles always seem to stay at a high volume but as long as the Warriors support players make the save they can keep opposing sides out.

The Warriors showed a little ring rust in the early stages after having a week off, but it didn't take too long for them to get into the swing of things.
Moving forward I'm hopeful that the Warriors will start their games stronger, but as they say, it's not how you start the race, but how you finish it so as long as the Warriors keep finishing games strong, I will find less and less to complain about.

And lastly is just giving too many penalties away for holding on in the tackle.
This is another constant issue with the Warriors in 2018 and to be fair I think they were hard done by on quite of few this round and it looked like Manly were holding the Warriors down for longer without getting penalised but they just need to take notice of how the refs are calling the tackles and react accordingly.

As stated above it I'm just nitpicking here, and I'm looking forward to seeing a similar or even better performance in Round 15.

Copyright Photo: The Guardian
My Warrior of the day goes to Ken Maumalo.
There's so many players that put their hand up in this performance, but when I think back to my favourite moment of the game, it was Ken's 50 metre barnstorming run where he pushed of Daly Cherry-Evans several times as he marched down the field.
Ken's improvement in 2018 is by far the most significant improvement in this entire squad and his effort on Saturday night needing mentioning.
He may not score tries like David does but he really helps the Warriors get out of their own half with big runs, and his 199 metres was a mammoth effort.
As long as he continues his metre eating ways I don't see anyone taking his wing spot of him for years to come.

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I have no Warrior to improve this week, so I want to give a shout out to Tohu Harris.
Tohu was in my eyes the strongest performing forward in the weekend and was a handful whenever he got the ball in hand.
I thought he was a bit quieter in the second half which is why he didn't get the Warrior of the day nod, but you can really see the difference Tohu has made to this side this year.
I think it is no coincidence that David is playing his best season ever for the Warriors at the same time that Tohu is playing on that right edge.
He is a natural born leader, and I think he is going to be so integral to this Warriors side and their development of young talent coming through for years to come.

Round 15 sees the Warriors travel to Townsville to face the North Queensland Cowboys on Friday night.
The Cowboys have had a year to forget in 2018, but they have dangerous players all over the park so you would be a fool to take them lightly especially at home in front of their vocal fans.
The Warriors won by 10 in Round 5 when they hosted the Cowboys at Mount Smart, and I'm predicting another Warriors win this week, but this time I see the Warriors winning by 12.
The Warriors just need to replicate what they did in Christchurch, and they will be well on the way to getting the victory.

So that was my take on an excellent Round 14 performance, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

With rumours about Issac Luke possibly not being re-signed, what would you do? Sign him or let him go?
Who was your best performer of the night?
Do you think the Warriors will stay in the top four for the remainder of the season?
What is your score prediction for Round 15?

Monday, 4 June 2018

NZ Warriors Mid Season Wrap Up: The good, the bad and the ugly

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With the Warriors enjoying a bye in Round 13 I have no review to write, so I decided it was the best time to write my midseason review.

As my title suggests, the Warriors have had a bit of a mixed bag in the first twelve rounds of the season.
There were indeed many good moments, some bad and few a few ugly and at the midpoint of the season you could say they sit on a knife edge of where their season will end.

The Warriors are currently 4th of the ladder with an 8-4 record and a -2 points differential (second worst in the top eight with the Brisbane Broncos sitting at 8th with a -32 points differential).
They have a better away record so far with only one loss in Australia with the other three defeats all happening at Mount Smart.
Coming into this season, I would never have predicted they Warriors to be sitting with a 6-6 record; I actually had them at a 6-6 record (I incorrectly predicted losses to come against the Rabbitohs in Round 1 and the Dragons in Round 7)

Keeping in the theme of my title I am going to break my wrapup into good, bad and ugly so to get it started let's go with the good.

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The Good

First up the Warriors come out of the gates quick and surprised many with their 5-0 start, their improved fitness clearly showed and they played a high tempo form of football that many teams could not keep up with.
The offloads returned in 2018 with the Warriors currently sitting at the top of the stat board with 171.
To make themselves a legitimate threat in the NRL, they need to start having players running the channels just off the shoulders to make the most of these offloads and open the game up with their second phase football.

The right attacking edge of Shaun Johnson, Tohu Harris, Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a has been one of the most lethal edges in the NRL this season.
David who is continuing his world cup form is on fire this year sitting tied at the top of the try scorer list with 12 tries, and I don't see him showing any signs of slowing down in the next 12 rounds.

The 2018 signings, for the most part, have been all winners with the standouts for me being Blake Green, Agnatius Paasi, and Tohu Harris.
With a plethora of young talent in this Warriors side, the experienced heads of Blake, Tohu and Adam Blair have made a difference in how this side performs.
With these guys on hand for the next few seasons, I'm sure the young players are going to learn so much and be a hell of a team for years to come.

The trio of Blake Green, Issac Luke, and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have been the key to a lot of the success the side has had in 2018.
Roger and Issac have both been enjoying their best seasons in Warriors colours with Roger being my player of the year to date with Issac not far behind him.
Blake Green has added the right balance needed for Shaun Johnson to get their halves pairing firing at a level we haven't seen since James Maloney left the club.
With Shaun returning from injury next week im hoping that he stays fit and we can see their partnership grow as the Warriors aim for a top 4 spot come playoffs.

My game of the year has to be the Round 7 win over the undefeated Dragons; they were a formidable side with a giant forward pack and the Warriors forwards matched them at every level, which just opened up so many opportunities for the back line to strike.
If the Warriors forwards could return to that kind of intensity, it would make the Warriors one of the harder teams to face.

Lastly, I wanted to highlight the turnaround by Ken Maumalo.
Big Ken was always up there in the meters gained count last year but was plagued by handling errors and defensive lapses.
This season, however, he has reduced his error rate and increased his meter eating capabilities, admittingly his try-scoring rate is still low, but with a try-scoring machine on the other wing, it should come as no surprise that the Warriors try to funnel their last play options towards the right.

2018 has lots of reasons for fans to smile so far but there are issues also which leads me to the bad.

Copyright Photo: NZ Herald
The Bad

With the Warriors, surprising teams early on it was only a matter of time before teams started to find ways to try and disrupt this team. Unfortunately, the Brisbane Broncos were the first to crack the code and put the Warriors pack under pressure and this season every time the Warriors pack has been bullied and dominated they have not looked to have any chance of getting the win.
The Warriors have a smaller more mobile pack, but they still need to bring some physicality to the table to set that platform for their explosive backline.
The gap between Agnatius Paasi and Bunty Afoa and the rest of the front rowers is too big right now and James Gavet, Sam Lisone and co need to improve sooner rather than later.

The missed tackles have been a huge concern this season, the Warriors have missed 416 tackles so far this season making them the third worse in that category.
You cant expect to win premierships if you miss that many tackles.
I'm not sure if the Warriors need to change their technique or if its simply just an attitude or skill issue but mark my words if this area of their game doesn't pick up in the second half of the season we could witness a slide to the bottom eight.

Lastly, for the bad, I want to mention the penalties.
The Warriors have been guilty of giving away lazy penalties this season, with many of them occurring in their red zone, some of the games they have won could have just as easily been losses if the opposition elected to take penalty kicks each time the Warriors were penalised near the goal line.
Some have claimed that this has been a tactical ploy by the Warriors but come playoff time you want to starve the other time of possession and giving away penalties is not the way to do it.

The good thing is that all the above can be addressed and fixed, I just hope that that actually happens.

All that's left now is the ugly.

Copyright Photo: Photosport
The Ugly

The injuries have been ugly this year, every team gets hit with Injuries, but I think the key to the Warriors change of fortune this season coincided with the injuries to Shaun Johnson and Leivaha Pulu.
Shaun is due back this week, but Pulu still has some time to go, I just hope that in Shaun's case he stay 100% for the rest of the season.

The only other things I could think of to class as ugly was, in my opinion, the Warriors two worst performances of 2018.
The round 8 50-10 loss to the Melbourne Storm and the round 10 32-0 loss at home to the Roosters.
In 2018 when the Warriors lose they really get a beating, and these two matches were by far the biggest and the ones most fans will want to forget.
They were found out in both these matches and failed to offer any fight back, all you can hope for as Warriors fans is that the Warriors have learned from these two losses and don't deliver more performances like that in the second half of the season.

Overall I'm happy with a top 4 spot at the midway point of the season; I think I am going to stick with my preseason prediction of a 7th place finish at the end of the regular season.
Looking at the rest of the Warriors draw they have a strong chance of finishing the season in the top four, but they need to increase their points differential by a considerable amount, I just think that their points differential will cause them to slide out of the top 4.
With the Warriors favourite time of year is now upon us with the State of Origin period starting now is as good a time as any for the Warriors to turn the P/D around, im just hoping the post Origin slide that they have had the past few years stays away this year.

The Warriors are back in Round 14 and are travelling down to Christchurch to face the Manly Sea Eagles.
It should be a good match for a South Island crowd starved of live NRL games to watch, so im hoping there is a large crowd.
Manly haven't had the best year to date and im predicting the Warriors to come away with a 14 point win on Friday night.

So that was my Mid Season review, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Who is your player of the year to date?
Who is your player that needs to improve the most?
Where do you see the Warriors finishing on the ladder?
What is your best or worst game so far this season?
What is your score prediction for Round 14 in Christchurch?