Saturday, April 13

Five areas Andrew Webster needs to address and one for myself.

Sitting back wallowing over the Warrior’s loss against the Sharks on Friday night, I felt a simmering sense of frustration, tinged by embarrassment. But don’t worry, this article has an upbeat ending. I was frustrated by the Warriors’ performance along with some dubious reffing. The feeling of embarrassment was for allowing myself to get seduced into believing things were different now. That the Warriors had turned a corner and weren’t going to let us down with sub-standard performances. If I had to put my house on any side winning in Round 1, it would have been the Warriors

So what the Hell happened?

I felt completely deflated and let down. Wanna kill momentum and take the wind out of the sails of an entire fanbase in 80 minutes? Tick. Imagine how the fans walking out of that stadium felt?

Then something dawned on me…

It’s just a game, man.

I needed to remind myself of this and give myself an uppercut, because I’d clearly gotten ahead of myself. I’d bought into the hype and believed we were on the brink of a dynasty. That this new growth mindset for improvement that the Warriors had adopted was going to build a community of better character and the world could be changed for the better! Okay, settle down, mate. And hey, maybe they still might, but there are clearly a few things that need sorting out.

Andrew Webster has some issues to work through and there are five big ones that reared their heads all at once, leaving the coach with a world of problems to work through over the week ahead.

1. Jackson Ford can’t catch. I now find myself holding my breath every time he runs onto the ball because he appears to be a 70/30 chance of catching it. It’s beginning to remind me of how I felt whenever someone kicked the ball high to Manu Vatuvei. And once that anxiety is established, it’s hard to get rid of.

2, Taine Tuapiki is defensively sound, really solid, but he appeared as flaccid on attack as Wayne Bobbit every time he sees a pair of scissors (I guess younger generations may have to look that reference up). He was unable to penetrate the defensive line himself, but more importantly, didn’t seem able to link with anyone on the edges either. The Warriors aren’t the same team without Charnze. Too soon to put RTS in there? Could be a confidence knocker to Taine, but they did it with Volkman, so… We’ll leave that one to Webster (obviously), but significant improvement is required from the little dynamo.

3. Bunty Afoa is ineffective and needs to go to Super League. Currently he’s absolutely no chance of securing a contract beyond 2025 and the Warriors are probably kicking themselves they were a little trigger happy giving him an extension so early in 2023. If he runs 100 metres in an NRL game this season, or makes any post contact metres at all, I’ll eat my hat (I’m exaggerating about the post-contact metres, and my hat, but you catch my drift).  Without the impact of Nuikore coming off the pine, the Warriors’ bench was left looking boring and predictable. And why have a prop on your bench if you don’t intend playing them? Tom Ale may as well hire a lazy-boy armchair for the next game. Would be great to hear from Webster about his own failings with the bench rotation – jeepers.

4. The Warriors struggled with direction and decision-making out of the ruck when Wade Egan wasn’t there. The Warriors were 12 – 0 up when Egan was on the park, and 0-16 down when Lussick was in his place. That’s not hard maths to work out who one of your most influential players is. Is it too soon to take a punt on CHT in Lussick’s place? But to make matters worse, Webster may find himself without Egan (elbow) or Kurt Capewell (rib cartilage) for their next game away to the Storm.

5. There were definitely some discipline issues but it’s clear the Warriors have to be so good, as to not allow refs to provide other teams with momentum-changing penalties. However, that’s practically impossible. Referee Peter Gough provided a masterclass on how to do this in the 25 minutes leading up to half-time. Unconscious bias is alive and well within the ranks of NRL referees. I’m not advocating violence against referees, ever, but I have to admit, if I heard that someone had flattened him on his way to the bus, I would have privately thought to myself – couldn’t happen to a better guy. 

Webster won’t ever use poor officiating as an excuse, and in this instance, it wasn’t just some poor decisions that undermined the Warriors performance. It was ineffective attack, poor discipline and errors, along with a gutsy Sharks defense – you have to take your hat off to them.

I’m looking forward to seeing a fully fit Warriors side play. But I worry that may never eventuate. Nuikore and Klokstad can’t come back soon enough. One player that I felt was really noticeably missing for impact, was Bailey Sironen. He had genuine footy nous and added real spark whenever he came onto the field, particularly toward the back end of the season in 2023.  Is this a void CHT could fill? Many will point to Curran’s absence, but he had issues allowing defenders too many post-contact metres. But I doubt either of those players would have made a difference in the result on Friday night.

It’s only Round one. And it’s just a game. Getting the right mindset as a fan to enable myself to better appreciate and enjoy the game, is my challenge. But probably an easier challenge to deal with, than those facing Andrew Webster this week.