Coach Andrew McFadden described his side’s first half against the Tigers as “passive.” Close Andrew – but the word starting with “p” you were looking for was pathetic. It seems to be the usual way the Warriors begin a season these days.
This is not your run-of-the-mill average Warriors side and this is no normal season in the NRL. “We got better in the second half,” and “we’ll be better for that performance,” lines won’t be accepted this year. It is time to put up or ship out – players and coaches alike.
The Warriors have the best roster on paper they have had in over a decade and too much has been invested in this group to accept mediocrity (and that is being far too kind when thinking about what they dished up yesterday).
The edge defense was the usual shambles Warriors fans have come to expect in recent years. So bad were the defensive reads the Fox Sports commentary team, including former Warrior Greg Alexander, were out of ways to explain the lack of tackling. At some point the penny has to drop – Manu Vatuvei, Solomone Kata, Konrad Hurrell (who wasn’t playing yesterday) and the like simply cannot play together in a back-line. They can’t tackle, they drop the ball and are a liability with the current balance of the Warriors roster. Worst still – the errors come at the worst possible time. When the Warriors had finally managed to turn away a wave of Tigers attack they hand the ball straight back with an error the under 8s coach would be filthy with from his weekend charges. The Warriors finally get a bit of momentum going their way, score a try to get back into the game and bang you can almost see the Vatuvei error before he even gets the ball. The time has come for McFadden to replace both Kata and Vatuvei with journeymen Matt Allwood and Jonathan Wright. Those two might not offer anything on attack but they won’t drop 2-3 balls each or concede 2-3 tries like the way Kata and Vatuvei seem to each week. Rugby league is a game played with the ball at times and without it. The Warriors haven’t seemed to have worked that out with their constant selection of attack-oriented centres and wingers that actually make the overall performance worse given their defensive frailties.
There were plenty of other concerns from the opening game – high profile recruits Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck offered very little. Jeff Robson was a non-factor while seasoned rep forwards Jacob Lillyman and new skipper Ryan Hoffman had quiet games. Some of that can be attributed to the poor first 40 in very hot conditions but there would need to be significant improvement if the Warriors are to contend this season.
Shaun Johnson looked sharp when he chose to run the ball, allaying fears his ankle injury last year would have long-term impact. Also impressing was prop James Gavet, who offers a point of difference up front. If he can keep his aggression and enthusiasm in check, he promises to be a very handy off-season acquisition. Blake Ayshford was solid without setting the world on fire – exactly what the club would have wanted when they signed him while debutante Nathaniel Roache had some nice touches mixed with a couple of shocking passes out of dummy half.
Fans will talk about a positive second half showing and improved defense but they need to look at the (lack of) quality in the opposition and the fact the Warriors dominated possession in the second spell.
It might only be one game as a sample size but the same problems have been there for seasons now and, unlike previously, heads will roll quickly if they are not addressed in a hurry.