Saturday, June 22

The halves, the halve nots and the centres of attention for the Warriors. Oh, and why State of Origin is shit

Luke Metcalfe and Te Marie Martin are injury prone. Ronald Volkman isn’t quite cooked yet and CHT won’t have played in over a year.

And is anyone else a little dubious of his sudden change of heart in wanting to return? Barely six months after making the mature decision to take a break from the game, one suspects CHT’s motives for returning are a little more to do with travel writing not paying as much as the NRL. While I can’t blame him given the cost of living, I can only hope he thrives in a stronger environment than his previous efforts, but his timing feels a little suspect.

Nevertheless, where does he fit in without having to change up his role to that of a Dylan Walker? Particularly given he isn’t anywhere near as good or tough. Oh, and he’s also injury prone.

With all that in mind, the Warriors need to resign Johnson on the two year deal he’s looking for because the potential for next year is mouth-watering. With him in the form of his life, the Warriors officially look the real deal and based on the belief continuing to emanate throughout the team, and the calibre of their opposition for the back end of the season, they look a rock-solid chance of playing finals footy for the first time in 5 years.

Not only that, they aren’t just looking to make the top 8, they’re looking to make the top 4! Johnson has found form mainly due to the fact that he hasn’t picked up injuries that have usually stymied his fluency. I can’t recall if he has ever played all games in the first 15 rounds of a season. And now the Warriors are a genuine threat to go deep into finals footy – with him playing.

As CNK has recently said, the sky is the limit, and given the Warriors have also been struggling to field their strongest squad all season, you have to think he’s right.

While Cameron Ciraldo was lamenting 9 injured players in his squad as “the worst injury crisis he had ever seen”, the Warriors had 10 players injured that week. But the return of Mitch Barnett has definitely made an impact and likely provided the Warriors with the missing steel they’ve needed to solidify their defense, line speed and confidence.

While spoiling Croker’s 300th game party, the only try the hapless ‘green machine’ could muster for most of the game was from a Wighton grubber that ricocheted to bounce perfectly for him to dot down under the posts. In other words, a bit of a fluke. Aside from that, the Raiders struggled, they were unfit (they had 65% possession in the first half and were gassed in the second – how?), and other than riding the coat tails of Papali’i, they struggled to get out of their own half. A lot of credit had to go to Barnett’s speed and menace in leading the Warriors off their defensive line.

But there was one intriguing factor about the Raiders game that may have been largely overlooked due to all the attention on other players milestones. And that’s the rock-solid debut of Ali Leiataua. Because with RTS returning next season, and likely to take up camp in the centres, the Warriors next season, for the first time in a long time, have genuine depth at centre and the halves – maybe too much.
Which does not bode well for Pompey coming off contract at the end of the season.

Without knowing the dynamics within the club, we have no idea of how this will all play out. Objectively speaking, Viliame Vailea and Rocco Berry have not performed strongly enough to earn spots over Adam Pompey and Brayden Wiliame next season. They need to be let go and allow Pompey to remain within the side, with Leiataua as the injury cover and being the development centre, with Wiliame there to be a leader off the field or should injury strike.

However, Vailea is signed until 2025, as is Volkman – though reports are emerging they are being shopped around, but there’s no accurate source for this information. But unless their managers can find them a willing suitor, the Warriors management will find themselves in a bit of a pickle. Because despite all the development they have put into Pompey, he may end up taking all that experience somewhere else. And that would be a genuine shame because they would then have to put that time into Berry and Vailea and neither look like they are good enough to overtake RTS or Wiliame, let alone the potential of Leiataua.

This week’s game against St George looms as a banana skin for the Warriors because for some inexplicable reason, the game is being played at 10pm on a Friday night. That’s never a great time of night for a NZ team to play. They will also be without Barnett (suspension) and up against some tough forwards who overcame South’s, albeit without their three best players. And despite St George’s position on the ladder, they have consistently been a bogey side for the Warriors over the years and you just need to look at the Warriors away record to St George to see this game could trip then up. But this is a different Warriors side. And thank goodness the competitive and tough Dylan Walker returns.

Speaking of 10pm games…

If I happen to ever watch State of Origin anymore, it’s because I’m curious to see whether any players representing a club the Warriors will be facing the following week, will get injured or suspended. The game has no relevance to me other than this. No other stakes at all. Why? Because I am from New Zealand and support the Warriors. And there are rarely ever any Warriors players involved. And even if there were, I still don’t care because I’ve no affinity toward either state and it has no impact on the Warriors.

I imagine State of Origin is really great if you’re from Queensland or New South Wales. Nothing makes me cringe more than NZers who champion one of these teams for which they have no genuine connection – other than having been drawn in by former Warriors players’ involvement, or for people of a bygone era, and the hope of some biffo. Which is so sad and pathetic, it only reinforces the pervading logic as to why so many people view the code as a low-class sport that is championed by meatheads and criminals.

It blows my mind that real Kiwis would find any sense of belonging to this overhyped rivalry. I understand ex-pats having found a new home in one of these states might develop some type of kinship toward it, but even then… it’s called State of ‘Origin’. I pity them when I see their lame posts on fan pages – sad attempts at proving they belong.

There’s just nothing for us living on the better side of the Tasman to get excited about. It’s quality rugby league with no stakes. And it only contributes toward diminishing the game rather than growing it. This three-match bore-fest is nothing more than a bloated version of a school fair for the NRL to boost their coffers. Yet it could be so much more if the scope was widened to grow the game and include Pacifica and Kiwi sides. But that won’t ever happen while Australians continue to be self-obsessed.

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