the perfect weekend trilogy

15 09 2008

Man, that was the best weekend of sport I can remember since, well, I can’t recall. I probably felt this good after the Celtics won the NBA title but this was better, these were games won by my teams, teams I’ve followed for all my life or in the Warriors case since they started 14 or so years ago. This was a triple whammy, a grand trilogy of results and when the final result occurred last night around 8 pm, you could have powered a city off my smile.

So where did it all begin?

In a seemingly modest fashion on Friday night with the NPC game between Auckland and Bay of Plenty. In past years this game wouldn’t have registered – Auckland would have thumped the BOP boys and I wouldn’t be writing about this. But this is an entirely different year. Auckland in 2008 are a shadow of their former self. The defending champions have lost too many players to retirement and overseas, plus they’ve been decimated by All Black duty. On the other hand the BOP boys had won 5 out of 6 and were playing well. Auckland were the underdogs.

For a long time they played like it was a deserved mantle. They were inept and the BOP were smashing them. Then some strange things happened. Three of our best players suffered serious injuries. Daniel Braid, the next best openside flanker in the country to Richie McCaw limped off. Joe Rokocoko followed shortly after and then a few minutes before half time, Lachie Munro suffered a severe elbow dislocation and we were stuffed. It looked like the Auckland team would lose by 50.

Only it didn’t play out that way. The Aucklanders rolled up their sleeves and played rugby as if they were from the Fitzy and Zinzan teams. Taniela Moa suddenly discovered he could play first five and we won in glorious fashion.

The game had everything you want in sport – drama, skill and an underdog triumphant. It was a fitting first part to the trilogy.

Part two was of course the All Blacks on Saturday night. This was a brilliant spectacle and featured the second stunning comeback of the weekend. Either team could have won this game but in the end it was McCaw and Dan Carter, the two all time greats in the NZ team, who were the difference between the sides.

The Aussies dominated the first half, the All Blacks operated on only 36% possession, and when they scored just before and after half time giving themselves a 17 – 7 lead it looked like it was over. But then, like Auckland the previous night, the ABs got on with the job and what followed was some scintillating rugby. It was sparked by the reserves but also inspirational play from Jerome Kaino and Rodney So’oialo. McCaw and Carter began to dominate and we scored three wonderful tries.

When the All Blacks led 28 – 17 it looked like the 11 point win I’d predicted was going to hold then the Aussies scored another try cutting it to 28 – 24 and we had perfect drama for the final few minutes. The All Blacks held on and it was glorious.

No one, including myself, expected the New Zealand Warriors to beat the Melbourne Storm. The Storm are the defending champions and had won the minor premiership. They were also playing at a ground they were near unbeatable at.

Only no one told the Warriors. They won in Melbourne last year and beat the Storm earlier in the season and they knew they could match them. And match them they did. They scored the first points and then refused to succumb to the Storm’s bully boy tactics. The Warriors matched the Storm, so much so that you thought you were watching a grand final game.

Manu Vatuvei played his best game for the Warriors. He was unstoppable and secure in defence. He seems to have cured his high ball problems and with that he becomes the best winger in the competition. His combination with Jerome Ropati is growing by the game and the try they set up for Michael Witt to win the game was all class and almost the length of the field.

The Warriors forward pack matched the Storm and in fact will have put the heebies into every other team. They play at home on Friday night to the Roosters and that game will be awesome.

If they can match that performance for another three games I believe they’ll win the championship.


Warriors versus Storm Preview

12 09 2008

Yesterday I previewed the All Blacks versus Wallabies but there’s an equally momentous game on this weekend, the NRL playoffs with the New Zealand Warriors versus the Melbourne Storm. So here goes.  

Supporting the New Zealand Warriors over the years has been a lot like being a supporter of the Los Angeles Clippers or Atlanta Hawks. They’ve seemingly been perennial losers despite the fact that they’ve been blessed with outstanding talent. It’s one of the true league tragedies that Stacey Jones never won a title with the Warriors. They came close in 2002 but have never come close again.

This year the Warriors have squeaked into the finals though it never should have been close. Their two losses to the Rabbitohs (of all teams) meant they had to win in Parramatta for the first time since 1995. The fact that they did and ultimately did it easily suggests that they are far superior to their ranking of 8th.

We have a good forward pack starting as ever with Steven Price and Ruben Wiki. Wiki has come through his early season form slump and I thought last week he was inspirational. If this is to be his last game with the Warriors then he should be fired up.

Price is the best captain in the NRL. When he plays the Warriors are a much different team. Its no coincidence that when he missed midseason games due to Origin duty the Warriors slumped. They’ve won 8 out of their last 10 and Price has been instrumental in all of them.

Michael Luck and Simon Mannering are extremely effective at what they do which is tackle tackle tackle.

It’s in the backs where we will struggle against the Storm. We have two players of class: Manu Vatuvei and Brent Tate with our only other true star Wade MacKinnon suspended. Our halves are suspect, although Fien has played well of late. Losing Wade MacKinnon for spitting at an official hurts but it was his own fault. I hope he can mend his ways because a healthy MacKinnon is breathtaking to watch and transforms the Warriors into contenders. However I suspect that the thing that makes MacKinnon so special, his fiery nature, is also the thing that pushes him into confrontations. The Warriors have a handy backup in Hohaia but he’s no MacKinnon.

The Storm on the other hand are chock full of stars, the best of who is of course the incomparable Billy Slater. They are the number one team in the NRL for a reason and they are playing at home.

One day the Warriors will win the NRL title but it won’t be this year. The Storm are too good across the park. We beat them once this season but it won’t happen again. The Storm by 8