Friday, July 19

Will a mature Warriors pack come at a price?

A recent poll of the top 50 best NRL players aged 23 or under featured no players from the Warriors.

Looking across the Warriors pack, you’ll find that’s because there are no players in the current 17 that are 23 or under. In some respects, this means the Warriors have a mature pack with calm heads which could explain why the team hasn’t panicked in stressful situations this season. However, having an ageing side also comes at a price – the future.

Let me explain.

With no players in the side under 23 that are considered to be worthy of top 50 consideration, you have to start wondering about what the next few years hold for the Warriors. Covid wreaked havoc on their pathways systems which, thanks to the great work of McFadden and the club, have now been restored.

But there’s obviously now what could be considered a generational gap in their experience rolling through the club. While the Warriors have some excellent recruits emerging in their NSW team, most aren’t NRL battle-hardened, and it takes approximately 50 games (according to Wayne Bennett) before a player understands and appreciates their role. Coach Webster has some work to do in terms of merging this apparent experience gap.

Though the Warriors had a bye over the weekend, something fantastic did happen for them aside from the two points. Some might argue it was the Knights win over the Raiders that contributed to the Warriors’ hopes of cementing a top 4 spot. But I’d argue it was the Titans beating the Cowboys.

As the Warriors head into the final 5 games of the regular season, every man and his dog has been at pains to remind anyone who will listen, how easy the Warriors run into the finals will be and the expectation is that they should win all remaining games. The Warriors could be forgiven for looking too far ahead and not focusing on the next game.

Thankfully, the Titans reminded them of why they shouldn’t do that. The Cowboys have probably been one of the form teams over the last 7 weeks, knocking off Penrith among a few other big names. They were overwhelming favourites to win, especially given the Titans were without their captain (suspended), as they will be this week. Arguably, the Cowboys were complacent and gave the Warriors a stern reminder of what they can expect if they show up to Cibus Stadium with a similar mindset.

Despite the Titans sitting 12th on the ladder, the Warriors should also be wary that the Titans possess one of the fastest back lines in the comp. Oh, along with a guy named Kieran Foran pulling the strings and a bloke named David Fifita who can both open a game up and leave you wondering what the heck just happened. So, if the Warriors don’t make those first-up tackles, you can bet the Titans will make them pay. The Raiders last-minute try against the Warriors will have caught the Titans eye, so you can expect some passes going wide on the third tackle to try and catch the Warriors out.

Often perennial easy beats, the Titans have actually had the Warriors number over the last couple of years and this is a great opportunity for the Warriors to re-establish terms. They have to. If the Warriors fail to beat the Titans on Friday night, unless the victory comes due to an early send-off or some other understandable logic, it will send a wave of simmering concern throughout the fanbase and club. Everyone will start asking if they are the Broncos of 2022. It will start to play in the back of their minds.

The Warriors can use these last five games to make a definitive statement – we’re a different side. They have already proven it in other ways, like never throwing in the towel. But too often, the Warriors have lost games they should have won. Even this year, the baby Broncos and the South’s game in the rain. Both were games everyone had chalked up as a Warriors win, just like these last five games. Here is a great opportunity to show everyone they can ice these tricky banana skin games, as they plough forward into a new era. The Webster Era.

One last thing – the Warriors extended Adam Pompey’s contract for another 2 seasons and I couldn’t be happier. He’s the only player to have played in every minute of Warriors games this season. Before this season, he’d only managed to chalk up a few dozen games at centre. He’d often been used on the wing and sporadically at best. This season, Webster also had to switch him mid-season to the opposite flank to accommodate Rocco Berry. Pompey is starting to find his feet there and he’s constantly improving. Wade Egan is a player that has improved leaps and bounds over the last two years. At the start of this season, Egan had only played 80-odd NRL games. Now he’s being discussed as one of the best hookers in the NRL. Pompey was 25 games less with only half his games at centre. Imagine how good Pompey is going to get after another season in that position. By 2025, Adam Pompey will be touted as one of the premier centres in the NRL. You heard it here first.