Not at all what I'd expected especially after the Panthers had taken the Titans down and given us a lifeline. We might never had got to the eight in any event, if the Titans won next week, but I thought we'd take the chance to control what we could and bag this one, and this really wasn't the performance of a team in control of their own affairs. Especially on defence, where there was more softness than I would have expected from a team in a do-or-die situation (the Woods try around the 24th minute was a good example). You could see in flashes that the team had come to play - especially that wonderful passage after the first half hooter that resulted in the disallowed try - but it wasn't maintained. Easy to say from the sidelines, I know, but it looks as if we need a bit more mental toughness.
And so we start to think about what to improve for next season. I don't want to get into the pro or anti McFadden stuff in any big way, as I suspect a lot of us in the stands just don't see enough or hear enough of the internal workings of the club to make a good call on that, other than to say that the burden of proof now shifts to McFadden to show us why he should be kept on. I haven't done the stats yet, but there can't be many (any?) clubs who have missed the eight five years in a row: McFadden has only been there for part of that run, but on the other hand you'd have to say that part of his job was to turn the previous underperformance around. And I appreciate that sometimes turnarounds take time. But 'benefit of the doubt', for me, doesn't run McFadden's way from here on in.
Part of the story is obviously missing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
, and at various points having Shaun and Issac with assorted niggles and injuries - Shaun's still not right, though even at half-pace he's capable of terrific stuff as we saw today - so hopefully next year we will have the 1st class spine we'd planned on for this year. We probably need to stop arsing about, and just see if Lolohea cuts it at #6 - if he can (and I think so), train him up in the job and let's go. All purpose "we have to have Tui somewhere" super-sub isn't going to work as well.
Our back line has the potential to be very, very dangerous next year. I know there are mixed views on Manu, but I thought today that the Manu/Kata combo was looking good. They seem to have a good rapport with each other. With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
back, Fusitua goes to centre (where he has been excellent) and Maumalo
on the other wing, and we're set.
The forwards - among the younger ones Vete, Lisone
, Gavet, all decent, all need just that extra bit of coaching to lift a little and they could be very damaging. Lisone
today at full tilt was pretty awesome. And there are more young guys coming through (remember Bunty Afoa
a few games back running off Shaun?). Among the senior team, Mannering has had an outstanding season, a complete rock, one of the best players in the comp, couldn't ask for more, hope 2017 is just as good for him, and Bodene has been very good too. The others - Hoffman and Matulino, OK but not outstanding and I do wonder about Lillyman's low running metres (including today). I'd be tempted to take a hard look there and ask whether we don't need a real hard man with ball skills, and it wouldn't hurt if they were the likes of a James Graham or a Sam Burgess who won't be called up for SOO duty.
I know, I know, you won't make the eight or the Grand Final without solid defence (and as I said we could have done with more of it today, and I hope this is the last season we see two backs wondering which of them will field the high ball) but if there's anything missing in our kit box it's pre-planned attacking plays. Especially last year and the first half of this year we came to games with what looked like low stocks of prepared tactics, and were too reliant on improvisation. Which we're quite good at - it's the Warriors way - but you can't improvise your way through a 26 game season. So while there's a role for playing what's in front of you, and if we're in that spot we can do it as well as anyone, I'd like quite a lot more work on pre-arranged plays. You can't plan everything, but it doesn't look to me that at the moment all the players know that on play 2 we do this, play 3 we do that, play 4 is the money ball.