Sunday, December 10

Should the NZ Warriors cut their losses on Adam Pompey? Or show a little faith?

Watching the Sharks game over the weekend (which I’m still recovering from. Wow. Phenomenal), I noticed our centres pairing a bit more. Not so much for them being exposed defensively on occasion, but because they are both fairly low profile and inexperienced in comparison to many other pairings throughout the NRL.

One who keeps coming under intense scrutiny in recent times, is Adam Pompey. But before we get to him… Can anyone name more than a handful of great centres that have played for the Warriors?

I’ll give it a go.

Nigel Vagana, Clinton Toopi, Jerome Ropati, Brent Tate… And… that’s all I got.

Tate was the last world class centre to play for the Warriors. There’s likely a few out there that might say’ “what about Konrad Hurrell….?” I did use the word ‘class’ and Hurrell had none. He was lazy and never lived up to his potential in the NRL because he was too concerned with his image and posting about Shortland Street actresses.

You just couldn’t in good conscience put Hurrell’s name alongside the likes of Tate and Vagana. While I had been hoping at some point to add Euan Aitken to that list coach Nathan Brown in his infinite wisdom converted Aitken into a back rower because he could play 80 minutes there, and yet the Warriors continued to leak points out wide.

Genius.

I’d almost put Peta Hiku in my handful of greats. Almost. But over the past 5 years, the Warriors have consistently come up short defensively on their flanks and continue to be exploited there because they have failed to establish and develop strong centres let alone buy them. Does anyone recall Dane Nielsen? I try not to.

One of their current centres, Adam Pompey, plays his 59th game for the Warriors this weekend, where he will come up against the premier pairing of Newcastle Knights centres, Bradman Best and Dane Gagai. While Knights fans will be frothing at the mouth over the prospect of Best using Pompey as a turn style, plenty of Warriors’ faithful have been furiously typing on message boards with decrees Pompey be dropped due to his average both form the current and last seasons. However, there’s an argument as to why those fans should think twice and show a little patience.

Let me explain.

It would be fair to say even Pompey would acknowledge he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.

His form overall has been patchy, albeit with glimpses of excellence – Valentine Holmes will attest to that. But two years ago, Wade Egan was also being vilified across comments sections on social media, where frustrated fans were baying for blood and discussing alternatives to be considered by the NZ Warriors decision makers. What a difference some patience makes. A few years on and Egan isn’t just one of the Warriors most consistent top performers – he’s their vice-captain and integral to the success the team is having. The comments section is now loving him. Funny that.

Egan emerged from the Penrith Panthers system, where he co-captained their NYC team before making his debut in the NRL in 2018 and making 29 appearances over the subsequent seasons. But he was told to look elsewhere at the end of 2019 because the Panthers had Api Koroisau and didn’t see Egan as an impact player off the bench, who sits more in the mould of a Cameron Smith. Cue a move to Penrose with the Warriors where Egan’s gone on to make another 61 appearances for the club since 2020, missing a chunk of 2021 with a shoulder injury. At 26, Egan has some pretty useful years left in him and is really only just hitting his straps.

Wayne Bennett has often stated that players really don’t know what they are doing in the NRL until they have played at least 50 games. Wade Egan grew immensely over the last two years, from around his 60th cap to his 90th. Which interestingly, is similar to where we find Adam Pompey.

Pompey emerged from the Roosters stable having played for the NYC team in 2017/2018 and debuted for their feeder side, Wyong. Identified by the great talent scout Peter O’Sullivan, Pompey joined the Warriors in 2019 where he was outstanding for the feeder side and ultimately made his debut for the Warriors in the NRL. While he’s chalked up 58 games, Pompey hasn’t played the same position frequently, having often been used on the wing, so there’s a lot more growth to come.

Coach Webster appears to be persisting with Pompey at centre, perhaps as an understudy to Brayden Viliame, but for good reason. Pompey isn’t the crash and bash crowd pleaser that Warriors fans have enjoyed over the years, such as Konrad Hurrell. His physicality and style is probably more in line with someone like Crichton or Menzies. What he will do is learn to run great attacking lines, service his winger, make good meters with ball in hand and cause opposition headaches with smart decision making on attack and defense – all of which takes time to develop. Just like Egan.

Some players simply develop faster than others. Some arrive on the scene with a splash, but the Reece Walsh’s of the world are far and few between and often suffer second season syndrome, from which only about a small percentage recover and live up to the hype and expectations they created for themselves. But for the rest, they take time to develop. Some just don’t. But because Pompey’s stats continue to improve each season, you have to assume he will continue to develop into a solid and reliable centre – something the Warriors have sorely missed.

Pompey’s tackle efficiency and run metres have improved each year since his debut. He’s made three try assists this season after 5 games and that’s more than what he made in all of 2021 and over half of what he made in all of 2022. The guy is getting better. Granted, there’s been a few brain explosions, but you get that in a team that’s losing and struggling to make something happen. And we saw how poor Johnson was playing during Covid, so we should probably make some allowances for Pompey, who now finds himself surrounded by experience and leadership – oh, and as it appears, a bloody handy coach.

Over the next 30 to 40 games that Pompey plays at centre, you can expect he is going to improve. For the money he’s on, that’s a smarter option than forking out for a big name who may or may not work out. And if they cut Pompey loose, mark my words he will take all that experience and put it to good use for another club. Just like Isaiah Papali’i. Just like Taane Milne. Just like… need I go on? Pompey is at the precipice of becoming a solid player. Stick with him. You won’t regret it. As Guns n Roses said, “…it’ll work itself out fine. All we need is just a little patience.”

And as we head into this weekend, Warriors fans will be hoping for a better start to a game, while Newcastle Knights fans have to be asking themselves whether their team is potentially better off without Kaylyn Ponga. Because the team that has emerged over the last two weeks has been a completely different side without him – and in a good way.

While the Warriors in Round One comfortably dealt to the Knights at the Caketin in the capital, barely 5 games later and they’ll be even more wary of the much improved Knights, especially at their home ground in the Hunter. The Warriors will likely welcome back reinforcements with Tohu Harris, Mitch Barnett and Te Marie Martin all likely to return. They will need them. The Knights are far from the wooden spooners everyone was picking them to be at the beginning of the season. If the Warriors are to get the treats against Newcastle, they will need to muscle up – and not give in, again.

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