I have been guilty of tearing into Rocco Berry over the past 18 months. And rightly so because he ‘d been dreadful. Berry had some of the worst running metres, not just for the Warriors, but across the entire NRL. His defensive reads have been questionable at best, and I’ve never seen someone die with the ball on a 5th tackle as many times as Berry – surely, he holds the record?
But his last three games for the Warriors have seen him emerge as potentially one of the premier centres in years to come. What a difference a coach makes. Berry has clearly been lacking in confidence and the family name no doubt harbours its own pressures. Yet Rocco Berry’s performance against Cronulla and the powerhouse that is Siosifa Talakai, was pitch perfect, and Berry’s try was electric and one of the best this season. His defence of Talakai was tough and uncompromising. There’s still a lot of work to be done but Berry can take a lot of heart into a game that will see him licking his lips at the prospect of taking on Raiders’ veteran, Jarrod Croker.
With the Warriors having a short 5-day turnaround and Canberra having enjoyed a bye, Ricky’s Raiders will arrive at Mt Smart on Friday refreshed and looking for payback. The Warriors completely rewrote the script at the last minute and left the Raiders with egg on their face by spoiling Jarrod Croker’s 300th game celebrations. Remember, Croker had not played the week before against the Eels, just so he could experience his 300th in front of his home crowd. And boy, did he get an experience he’d rather forget. It wasn’t even close.
The Raiders will be out for blood and there’s also the carrot of outright 4th on the points ladder, for whoever wins. Depending on other results, the Warriors could find themselves 3rd with a win this weekend.
Take nothing away from the quality of the Warriors last weekend, but Cronulla have been found out as top 8 frauds because they are barely able to beat anyone on the top 8. The Raiders are a slightly different proposition, who, like the Warriors, have beaten 4 sides in the top 8 this season. However, the big difference is points for an against. In their past 5 games, The Warriors have scored 180 points including 36 against the Raiders, which is also their average. However, they’ve only conceded 82 points. Compare this to the Raiders who have scored 102 points and yet conceded 121 points. All Raiders wins have been within ten points.
The Warriors are developing the skill of making other sides play their game. And if teams other than Penrith fall into this trap, and the Warriors have a full-strength side, then they will find that the Warriors are fitter and able to absorb onslaughts and then destroy them up the middle or catch them off guard out wide. The Warriors are quickly developing an arsenal of options and are becoming a serious title contender. However, there’s 3 players they cannot do without.
1. Dylan Walker. His ball playing, footy nous and speed off the line cannot be underestimated. He is in my mind the buy of the season across the NRL but has also been well coached to bring out his qualities. His ability to come off the bench and change the game is incredible and in the last 100 minutes he has played, the Warriors have scored 82 points too, get this… zero.
2. Shaun Johnson – remarkably and possibly for the first time in his career, Johnson has played every game this season. Whereas previously, niggly injuries have stymied his momentum, Johnson has managed to avoid them in 2023 and had positioned himself to rediscover his career best form and become a serious contender for the Daly M award. His game management and infectious enthusiasm along with his newfound toughness on defense, is a must have for the Warriors come finals.
3. Along with Johnson, Addin Fonua-Blake has played every game and been the powerhouse to get their metres going. He has the 3rd highest running metres in the NRL and tops the list for props (although Haas has a better per game average). His ability to get valuable post contact metres away from of the Warriors red zone is essential for them to position themselves for kicks deep into opposition territory. Oh, and did I mention he’s the Warriors third equal highest try scorer for the Warriors this season?
Hold onto these three key players with special mentions for Charnze and Barnett, and the Warriors could achieve… what has always thought to be the unachievable. Regardless, one thing they have already won this season is the fan’s hearts – and likely Daly M Coach of the Year.
One last thing: I’ve resisted the new nickname and I know there will be some traditionalists that will struggle with this, but if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I used it for the first time the other day and trust me… it’s kind of contagious. Give into it and it will set you free. Up the Wahs!