NZ Warriors Round 7 Review: Intensity returns as Warriors hand Dragons first loss

NZ Warriors Round 7 Review: Intensity returns as Warriors hand Dragons first loss
After their first loss of the season, the Warriors had their first taste of Friday Night Football as they hosted the undefeated St George Illawarra Dragons.

Questions were raised about the teams lack of intensity in the aftermath of their loss to the Broncos and fans and sceptics alike were eagerly awaiting Round 7 to see if the Warriors would bounce back or if Round 6 was the start of a slide.

Well, the Warriors regained their intensity and in front of a bumper crowd of 18,295 fans put on in my mind their best performance in 2018 with a 20-12 victory.

What a way to bounce back from a loss, on paper the Warriors shouldn't have won this match.

They only had 38% of the possession, an uneven 13-5 penalty count and 63 missed tackles but despite this, the Warriors always looked in control of this match and punished the Dragons whenever an opportunity popped up.

Injuries to Shaun Johnson and Solomona Kata meant they missed this match with Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling taking their spots and they both performed well, Gelling making up for his lacklustre ten minutes in round six and Lino continuing his fine form from his last appearance in round four.

An injury to Tohu Harris Harris early on in the first half and a Blake Green sin-binning put extra pressure on the Warriors, but they rose to the challenge and shone.

The Dragons looked a shell of the dominant team they have been for the first 6 weeks of the season.

At times in this performance, they looked lost and out of ideas, the pressure the Warriors were able to put on them restricted their key players from playing the free-flowing football we have come to expect in 2018 which leads me to my positives from the game.

The forwards came to play, you really notice the difference when Bunty Afoa starts a match.

Bunty and Agnatius Paasi were vital in getting the Warriors sets moving forward, this lead to plenty of chances for Issac Luke to scoot out of dummy half against lazy markers, these easy metres were heavily required with the limited time the Warriors had with the ball.

The goal-line defence was another highlight for me.

The Warriors do continue to miss easy tackles outside of their own twenty-metre line, but once in the red zone, they have shown tremendous fortitude in holding out wave after wave of attack.

Every missed tackle is bad, however (more on that in my negatives) but in season past the Warriors would crumple on their own goal line so this change is encouraging.

A testament to this goal line defence is the fact that it took the Dragons nine minutes into Blakes Greens sin bin to finally cross for their first points of the match.

The team's fitness shined once again, with a three-man bench for the majority of the match the Warriors didn't lose a step in the late stages of the game and ending the game with an interchange still in play.

The team also returned to playing as a unit once again, and this pack mentality will need to be present week in and week out if they want to be a top-four side when playoffs begin.

It may have been the best performance in my opinion of the season, but it was far from a perfect performance which leads me to my negatives.

Those missed tackles are a huge concern, 63 missed tackles are far too many, and all players were guilty with Ken Maumalo being the only Warrior to not miss a tackle.

If this trend continues the Warriors will be in for a rude awakening as the season progresses and the opposition start to improve as their combinations begin to gel.

Penalties are my other concern, 13 penalties are too many in my opinion, there was talk after the game from Paul McGregor where he suggested that perhaps giving away penalties is a tactic that the Warriors are using as a way to stop the opposition momentum.

Stephen Kearney denied this ploy but if it is what they are doing it is currently working, but the big question is for how long?

Teams may elect to take the easy two points and just starve the Warriors of possession and slowly build a lead two points at a time and go for tries when the sin bin inevitably comes.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images​

My Warrior of the game goes to Issac Luke.

The year of Issac continues after another impressive showing from the veteran hooker.

This has been the best season of his career, and I think not being selected for the Kiwis for last years World Cup may have been a blessing in disguise for the Warriors as it may have been the wake-up call Issac needed.

Issac won this match for the Warriors with the one-two punch of a 40/20 (the Warriors forth of the season) which was quickly followed by his second try for the year.

Issac is a vital cog in the Warriors machine, and I have no doubt that he will be re-signed and continue to impress in 2018.

Copyright Photo: Getty Images​

No Warrior to improve again this week but I want to give Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling a mention this week.

Mason has eliminated the fear I use to have when Shaun Johnson wasn't playing, he is not a flashy player by any means, but he knows what he is capable of and gives 100% whenever he is given a chance to perform.

When Blake Green was sin-binned, I thought Mason shined, with his experience half partner gone he did not lose a step and directed the team around like he had been a regular in the side for years.

Talk of giving Mason Shaun's starting line up spot and forcing Shaun to earn it back is getting louder, and I hope that this spurns Shaun into some great performances when he returns.

I expect quite a few teams will be keeping an eye on Mason when his contract expires.

Now onto Gelling, I will admit I have been a fan of Gelling for a while as a Wigan Warriors tragic, and after talking him up all preseason, I have had my fair share of grief from friends after his dreadful showing against the Broncos.

As I said last week all Gelling needs is game time, no player can be expected to perform great when returning from Super League and only getting five minutes at the end of a game.

In his first start, he was solid, still a lot to work on but he defended well and used his size to create headaches for the defensive line.

He has the starting gig again this week so his real test will be to perform consistently and to give Kearney food for thought when it comes to selecting his starting centres for the rest of the season.

Round 8 finds the Warriors travelling to Melbourne for their annual Anzac day clash (please NRL how about giving the Warriors this fixture in New Zealand in the near future).

The Storm had a rough start to the season but have started to return the form that saw them go all the way last season.

The Storm always seems to step it up a gear on Anzac night and punish the Warriors.

However this week I am picking the Warriors to get the two points and win by 14 points.

So that was my take on an impressive Round 7, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

Would you re-sign Issac Luke for next season?

What would you do with Mason Lino when Shaun is back from Injury?

Who would be your starting Lock?

What is your score prediction for Round 8?
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My name is Brad and I have a dream to turn myself from a Wannabe writer into an actual writer, just working on finding my voice and then getting my voice out there.
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