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Monday, 27 August 2018

NZ Warriors Round 24 Review: Warriors to return to Playoffs after punishing Panthers

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After Round 23's defeat, the Warriors made the journey home to Mount Smart Stadium to face the Penrith Panthers.
With the NRL ladder the tightest it has been for several years the Warriors needed to get the victory to secure their spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Thankfully for the large crowd in attendance, the Warriors came to play and looked a much better side than the week before, getting the much-needed win 36-16.

This was one of the better performances from the team this season, the team appears to be clicking and is finding the right time to attempt to build momentum in the lead up to the playoffs, especially with so many teams in the top eight right now suffering upset defeats.
Without Blake Green, I was worried that the Warriors would lack direction, but Shaun Johnson stepped up to plate and lead this side around the park with Mason Lino slotting in and giving yet another strong outing.
Even when the Panthers scored two tries in quick succession in the second half, a Warriors win never looked in doubt.
The difference in comparison to last week I believe was due to the improved defence and a more significant impact from the forward pack (but more on both of those below).

The key now for the Warriors is to keep their tempo up if the Warriors can play their fast style they are going to tough to beat as shown in this match where they barely looked in danger to another top-eight side desperate for a win.

This leads me to my positives from the match.

The forwards played with a lot more intensity this week.
Despite their lower than expected metre stats (only one forward ran for over 100 metres), their runs were effective, and they were able to get the quick play the balls which allowed Issac to snipe from dummy half and also let the backs to run rampant on a backpedalling Panthers defensive line.

The backs were unstoppable in this match.
The entire back line except for Mason ran for over 100 metres, and they were always threatening to break the game open.
The Warriors are one of the best-attacking backlines in this competition, and if they continue to get a good roll on from the pack, there will be plenty more points scored by this side.

The strong goal-line defence returned.
As the cliche goes Defense wins Championships, and the Warriors strong goal-line defence continues to impress, the short goal line dropouts are still a great option as this game showed that if the Warriors did not regain possession, the opposition didn't have the space to create many chances to score.
If the Warriors can work on their defence in the middle of the park, then everything will be coming along nicely.

As great as this game was, it wasn't perfect which leads to my negatives.

In the first half, the Warriors were guilty of some poor last tackle options; there were several kicks from Shaun that went directly to the Panthers back three.
It may have just been a case of Shaun adjusting, and it did improve as the game progressed, but once they reach the playoffs, the Warriors will need to make every play count, I'm confident that the last tackle options will improve with the return of Blake, however.

I'm still not sold on the Interchange rotation, I feel like some players are getting too much time where others are not getting enough.
On a positive note at least this week, there wasn't a back sitting on the bench.

My last negative goes to one play by Solomona Kata.
When Kata scored his try there was an overlap for Ken Maumalo outside of him, I know he scored the try, but you should always be looking at the guaranteed play instead of boosting your individual stats.
It must be frustrating for Ken and could be a good carrot for opposition teams looking at signing the big winger to dangle in front of him (Ken if you come here you will have a centre that will feed you the ball instead of running you out of touch).
I could be in the minority, but I want to see the Warriors take advantage of any overlaps they get.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warriors of the game goes to Tohu Harris.
Tohu had a strong return to the field in his first game back from injury.
With 161 metres Tohu was the only forward to crack 100 metres, and with his return to the right edge, the Warriors attack was on fire once again.
Tohu is the key to that right edge firing, and it will be interesting to see what Kearney does with Beale now as Hiku had a strong game outside of Tohu.
If it were me, I would be replacing Kata with Beale and leaving Hiku out there, but a Beale and Harris combination could be deadly too.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
I have no Warrior to improve this week, but I want to give shout outs to Shaun Johnson and David Fusitu'a.
Shaun had his best performance of the season in this match, attacking the line at will and creating opportunities for all the players around him.
When Shaun is in this kind of mood, he is one of the best players in the NRL, and the Warriors need him to be like this more often.
A running Shaun Johnson creates doubt in the opposition defensive line which in turn leads to holes that Shaun can put other players through, or he can hit that hole himself and score.
I have my fingers crossed that Shaun continues in this style for the rest of the season.

David Fusitu'a congratulations on 21 tries and getting back to the top of the try scorer leaderboard.
Five tries in two matches is impressive, and I believe there are still plenty more tries left in him for 2018.
I have no doubt that he is in talks to be the Dally M winger of year and is only the third Warrior to score 20 or more tries in one season (with Francis Meli and Manu Vatuvei being the other two).

The last round of the regular season is now upon us, and the Warriors get to spend it at home against the Canberra Raiders.
The Raiders are out of the playoff race, but they will be looking at ending their season on a high and have had some impressive performances in the past few weeks, so I'm expecting a tough contest.
The NRL Ladder is ridiculously tight this year and with one round remaining the Warriors could end up anywhere between second and eighth depending on how all the games end up.
I believe the Warriors still have a legitimate chance and finishing fifth or sixth and getting a home final but the Warriors can only control what happens in their game, and they will need to ensure that they come away with the win.

This game is also Simon Mannering's 300th game for the Warriors, so I expect the team to be ready for a big performance to honour one of the best players to have ever worn a Warriors jersey.
I'm predicted the Warriors to come away with a 16 point win here, I think the Warriors have started to gain momentum at the right time and will not be wanting to lose in such a special game for Simon, and I'm hoping a huge crowd is there on Friday night too.

So that was my take on a great Round 24, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Who would be your centres for Round 25?
Did you have a Warrior to improve?
How confident are you in the Warriors playoff chances?
What is your score prediction for Round 25?

Monday, 20 August 2018

NZ Warriors Round 23 Review: Bulldogs take bite out of Warriors top four aspirations

Copyright Photo: Photosport
After their victory over the Knights, the Warriors made their last journey across the ditch for the regular season to face the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
A win here would give the Warriors a potential shot at a top-four spot, but it wasn't to be as the Bulldogs got the win in a tighter than expected encounter 27-26.

What can you say about this performance from the Warriors?
Most people had the Warriors winning this game comfortably but much like the game on the Gold Coast the Warriors were out-enthused and let the opportunity pass them by.
The Warriors just seemed off the pace for the majority of the match, and while the Bulldogs were playing a simple gameplan, the Warriors could not contain them.
With the Warriors needing to play catch-up football, they needed to start playing a more expansive style, but all they brought to the party was one out runs that were reminiscent of 2017.
If you want a positive spin on the Warriors after this game, it is that the Warriors will still play in the finals unless the wheels fall off and they lose their last two games, and the Tigers manage to beat the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs.
After this game a lot of pundits in Australia have written the Warriors off now which could work in the Warriors favour, this is a dangerous side, and when given the underdog tag this season they have responded successfully.
However, if they continue to play like they did against the Bulldogs they are not going to last so a return to form is urgently required.
There wasn't too much to praise, but I do have a few highlights which bring me to my positives from the match.

Congratulations to David Fusitu'a for becoming the fastest Warrior to score 50 tries after getting back to his try-scoring ways with a double.
David has had a season to remember when it comes to scoring tries, he had hit a bit of a dry spell, but hopefully this double opens the floodgates, and we see plenty more tries from him before the season is over.

My last positive is that the Warriors are finishing the regular season with two games at Mount Smart, utterly selfish positive, I just love going to live games on a Friday night.

Well, there wasn't a lot there that I could praise which leads me to my negatives.

The lack of forward momentum was a huge concern for me.
The props lacked serious punch and were bullied very easily by the Bulldogs pack, this, in turn, reduced the impact that Issac Luke had in the game with him having one of his quietest games of the season as he couldn't rush out of dummy half with his forwards continually being on the backfoot.
The forwards have shown that they can be a lot better than this so it's down to the attitude, improve that and the Warriors will back in front again.

There was very little pressure on the Bulldogs kickers, Lachlan Lewis is a great young talent, but he does not like kicking on the run so if more pressure was put on him he could have buckled.
Not to forget that there was no one was even close to him when he slotted the match-winning field goal which is inexcusable.

The Warriors last tackle options were poor with the most significant mistake coming on the Warriors the last set of the match, with the game locked up at 26 all Shaun Johnson kicked on the last direct to Will Hopoate, this lead to the Bulldogs starting there set in better field position which ultimately lead to that match-winning goal.
A kick into space or even a kick to the sideline to waste some time and go into Golden Point would have been the ideal play.

Lastly is the injuries.
The Warriors lost Blake Green in the 70th, and Gerard Beale and Shaun Johnson also had some issues.
The Warriors need all three players back for this Friday's match against the Panthers, so fingers crossed they get through this week unscathed.

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My Warrior of the game for the third week in a row goes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Despite the team's performance Roger continues to go from strength to strength with another high metre count (273metres this match).
When many of his teammates were struggling to dent the Bulldogs defensive line, Roger was always threating to break the line.
I firmly believe he has the potential to be the Warriors first Dally M medalist this season but a strong finish to the season by Roger and the Warriors is required.

Copyright Photo: W3Live News
My Warrior who needs to improve goes to Agnatius Paasi.
Paasi has been one of best Warriors this season, but this was his worst performance of the year with his runs barely making an impact.
I feel like he is going to bounce back (like the rest of the pack) this week and will be back to his best on Friday night.
He is head and shoulders above the rest of the props currently and will not have a poor performance two weeks in a row.

Round 24 sees the Warriors return to Mount Smart to face the Penrith Panthers.
The Panthers have lost James Maloney to injury and could possibly lose a few players to suspension due to the fight in the Panthers Round 23 match.
This does not make the Panthers match an easy win as the Panthers beat the Warriors in Round 17 without some of their stars.
If the Warriors can return to the attitude that they brought to the game against the Dragons they have a great chance to defeat the Panthers, if they show up like the did against the Bulldogs it will not be a good night for the home crowd.
I believe that Round 23 was a wake-up call for this side and they will bounce back against Penrith so im picking the Warriors to win by 10 here.

It has been an exciting run to the playoffs with the ladder being so close and with the recent run of upsets the Ladder continues to be hard to predict but I feel like my preseason prediction of 7th place is going to run true for the Warriors, but we will find out in two weeks time.

So that was my take on a disappointing Round 23, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Do you think this is the beginning of a Warriors slide?
Who was your Warrior to improve?
Where will the Warriors finish on the Ladder?
What is your score prediction

Monday, 13 August 2018

NZ Warriors Round 22 Review: Milestone game and the Hot Stepper


Copyright Photo: TheHerald.com.au
After last weeks triumph in Wollongong, the Warriors returned home to Mount Smart to face the Newcastle Knights and celebrate Issac Luke's 250th game.
In contrast to their impressive away record the Warriors have not had great success in Auckland and were sitting on a four-game losing streak at home.
This streak ended however with the Warriors winning 20-4 with this win almost confirming that the Warriors will return to playoff football after a seven-year drought.

Man, it is great to be able to watch a Warriors win live again, I was starting to envy the Warriors fans across the ditch as the losses in Penrose started to stack up.
The first half was a bit sloppy with the Knights scoring first and the Warriors failing to stick their passes.
But on the back of their forward pack and the impressive back three the Warriors started to gain traction, and by the second half the Knights had nothing in the tank and appeared to be out of ideas as time ran out.
Sure it would have been great to see the Warriors blow the Knights off the park but I am more impressed in the fact that the Warriors kept the Knights to only four points, with playoffs looming the Warriors strong goal-line defence could be what determines how far into the playoffs they go.
This leads me to my positives from the match.

The Warriors forward pack came to play with six forwards running for over 100 metres.
James Gavet had a strong showing running for 151 metres, but the whole pack had a tremendous showing.
When the forwards play with the attitude they displayed here they set a great platform to unleash the lethal backline they have at their disposal, and this needs to continue.

Speaking of the backline five of the seven backs also ran for over 100 metres with all eyes looking at Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (338 metres) and Ken Maumalo (223 metres), even Blake Green had a field day running for 102 metres himself and scoring an excellent solo try.
I may be biased, but I believe that the Warriors have one of the best back three combinations in the NRL right now with Roger and Ken leading the way.
I don't envy the opposition coaches that have to try to work out a game plan to reduce the impact Roger, Ken and David have when returning kicks, we may soon start to see teams kicking for the sidelines much like what teams used to do to Billy Slater.

The goal line defence from the early rounds returned, and I think it is down to the confidence this team has.
You can see that the players have faith in the players either side of them and this, in turn, allows them to take the short drop-out option after being forced in goal as they know they can hold teams out if they have a full set close to the Warriors line.
With the rate that the Warriors have been regaining possession from these dropouts, you would have to assume that it is changing the way the opposition play when in the Warriors red zone as a repeat set is not guaranteed anymore.

My last positive is just the attitude the Warriors are starting to show in the final stages of the season,  this team believes that they belong in the top eight (even the top four) and they are not letting teams walk over them anymore.
Still lots of work to be down but they are starting to gain some momentum as the regular season winds down.

The game wasn't perfect however which leads me to my negative from the performance.

To be honest, I don't have that many for the second week in a row, but the Warriors were a bit reckless at times with the ball in hand throwing passes or offloads that didn't need to be thrown.
Simon Mannering needs to stop trying to offload as nine times out of ten it ends badly, he is a great player, but I think he should leave the second phase football to the players that do it well.

The penalty count still needs to come down a bit for me, but it was at least in the single digits, with some crucial games coming up that will determine whether they will have a home finals appearance or not the Warriors need to prevent any easy points for the opposition.

Lastly, I still want to see more minutes given to Paasi, I know im a broken record at this point but 35 minutes is not enough for the Warriors best front rower.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images
My Warrior of the game goes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Who else could it genuinely go to Roger had one of his best performances on Friday night.
338 Metres, 11 tackle breaks and 2 line breaks is beyond impressive but one moment really stood out for me, and that was after one of his big breaks he made the decision to hold onto the ball instead of flicking a fifty-fifty pass out to one of the support runners.
Sure if he passed the ball it may have lead to a quick try but it was early in the tackle count, and he made the correct call to just take the tackle and let the team continue to roll on.
He has to be in talks for the Dally M this year, and I hope his forms continues.

Copyright Photo: newcastleknights.com.au
No Warrior to improve this week but I want to highlight Ken Maumalo.
Ken continues to go from strength to strength in 2018, I would love to see him get some more tries to add to his tally but his big runs are just as vital to this teams performance as all the tries that David scores on the other wing.
His runs out of the Warriors own half take so much pressure of this side and allows the forwards to get the Warriors deep into the opposition half, and I hope he continues to grow and develop into the monster winger he has the potential to become.

Round 23 has the Warriors make their final trip across the ditch in the regular season as they travel to Sydney to face the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs are a better team than their position on the ladder suggests, and the Warriors would be fools to take them lightly but judging by the past fortnight I don't think this Warriors side will do that.
If the Warriors pack play with the same intent that they showed in Round 22, they should be able to set the platform for the backline to run rampant on the Dogs.
I'm picking the Warriors to come away with a 14 point win here and cementing their claims for a possible top-four spot.

So that was my take on a sold Round 22, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Was this Rogers best performance ever in the NRL?
Is there any player that you think had a poor performance?
Do you think the Warriors can still make the top four?
What is your score prediction for Round 23?

Monday, 6 August 2018

NZ Warriors Round 21 Review: Gong drought over as Warriors vanquish Dragons

Copyright Photo: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images
Wishing to put the horrible performance in Round 20 behind them, the Warriors travelled down to Wollongong to the fortress called WIN Stadium where the Dragons have yet to be defeated in 2018.
Not only have the Dragons not lost at WIN Stadium this year but the Warriors have never tasted victory at the ground either.
However, 2018 continues to be the Warriors year of breaking hoodoos as they came away with a hard-fought 18-12 victory.

What a way to bounce back after the disaster on the Gold Coast, being labelled soft by your coach isn't easy to swallow, and the Warriors needed to bounce back, and they did just that with this performance.
The performance wasn't perfect, and they were their own worst enemies at times, but they showed heart and an improved attitude that harkened back to the beginning of the season.

A big shout out needs to go to Shani and the Warriors team for organising a supporters bus for the Warriors members to travel to the game together.
It looked like a fantastic experience and only strengthened my desire to get Brad's Ramblings across the ditch for a game next season and meet the likes of Warrior Nation and Josh Gage in the flesh, might have to try and force my way into the next View from the East Stand road trip.

In a stark contrast from last week, I have quite a lot of positives and not so many negatives so I will start off with my positives from the match.

The Warriors took advantage of the Matt Duftys sin-binning scoring all their points in that ten minutes, this is a considerable improvement when you rewind back to Round 12 where the Rabbitohs scored against the Warriors with a man in the bin.

The Warriors goal line defence was a welcome return and was the difference between winning and losing this match, the Dragons were throwing everything they could at the Warriors in the last 30 minutes of the game, and they held them out.
The highlight for me being yet another Roger Tuivasa-Sheck try saver where he stripped the ball out of Tim Lafai's hands over the line.

The attitude of the Warriors improved drastically this round, when they started to make some errors and let the Dragons back into the game at the beginning of the second half, my heart sank as I thought it was going to be a repeat of the Titans game but the Warriors kept their heads up and came together.
With the finals looming this attitude and desire needs to be consistently present if the Warriors are to make waves in the finals.

And lastly, the Warriors reduced their error count only making 6 errors in the match.
Unfortunately two of those errors lead to tries, but if the Warriors can keep their error tally in single digits, they will be well on track even more victories on the final stretch of the season.

As mentioned above this wasn't a flawless performance which leads me to my only negative of the match.

The Warriors need to reduce the penalty count, I think they were hard done by on a few calls, but in that second half they had 6 penalties called in a row, and if that happens again they could see a man in the bin or even worse see a victory slip away.
The Warriors have performed this best this year when they have towed that line so as long as they keep their defence strong, the Warriors can possibly afford a few extra penalties but the fewer chances they give the opposition with the ball the better it is for them.

I'm, sure there is more I could nitpick, but I feel like I still have a pair of rose-tinted glasses of as I can genuinely admit I did not expect the Warriors to come away with the win.
The Warriors record against the Dragons is poor, but it is fantastic to have in the record books that in 2018 the Warriors ended the Dragons win streak and also handed them their first defeat at WIN Stadium.

Copyright Photo: Photosport
My Warriors of the match goes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
As I said last week when I pick Roger as my Warrior to improve I believed it was a blip and that he would bounce back and boy did he ever.
To say Roger had a strong game is an understatement, he ran hard and fast, creating chances for the Warriors backline to score and did not shirk his defensive responsibilities.
Roger exemplifies the attitude the Warriors showed this week, you can see that he is giving it 100% for the entire 80 and that has to rub off on the rest of the team.
If the rest of the side can match Roger's commitment for the remainder of the season, I feel like they could have a decent chance in upsetting some of the playoff favourites.

Copyright Photo: Photosport
My Warrior to improve goes to David Fusitu'a.
This was hard as I think the majority of the side had a good performance, but unfortunately for David, he made 3 errors in the second half, three doesn't sound like much, but when the Warriors only made 6 mistakes, it makes 3 errors a bigger deal.
It didn't help that 2 of his errors lead to the Dragons only tries in the match.
Much like Roger last week, David's performance this week was an anomaly, and I firmly believe that David will bounce back this week.

In round 22 the Warriors return to Mount Smart to face the Newcastle Knights, with 3 of the last 4 games of the season being played at home the Warriors need to turn around their poor form at home.
Its hard to believe that the Warriors have only won 4 games at home this season when they just notched up their 8th away victory for the year.
If the Warriors can win the rest of their home games, they may still have a legitimate chance of making the top four again.
The Knights have been a bit up and down the past few rounds and im picking the Warriors to get the win by 10 here.
The Warriors are going to need to shut down Kalyn Ponga plain and simple, and if they play like they did in Wollongong, then they have a great chance of getting the win here.

So that was my take on a fantastic Round 21, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

What was your biggest positive from this performance?
Who was your player to improve?
How many wins do you see the Warriors getting in the last 4 Rounds?
What is your score prediction for Round 22?