2009 = Year of the Warriors

23 03 2009

I have been telling people for months that this year is the Warriors year. Of course I have been secretly hoping that for the last decade and a half but other than a couple of notable exceptions (especially 2002 when they made the Grand Final), I never really absolutely believed they had a legitimate chance to win the title. This year I absolutely believe.

We have pace, power, skill and flair with a perfect blend of youth, (Russell Packer, Joel Moon, Manu Vatuvei etc) and experience (most notably the incomparable Steve Price and Stacey Jones). The Warriors also have arguably the best backline in the NRL: the back three of Wade MacKinnon, Vatuvei and Denan Kemp are a match for anyone, both our centres are world class while in Joel Moon we have one of the best offseason buys – especially when he is paired beside Jones and the ever steady Nathan Fien.  The forward pack is direct and strong with some solid defensive stars in Jacob Lillyman, Michael Luck and Simon Mannering. The one thing the forwards lack is a true ball player like Sonny Bill Williams or Ali Lautiti but they compensate in other ways.

The first two games of the season proved the Warriors are going to be a true force this year. They steam rolled the Parramatta Eels last week, only letting the Eels back into it when the first game of the year style mistakes crept in, while yesterday they outlasted the Manly Sea Eagles (the defending champions no less!) in Brookvale. The Manly victory was especially sweet as they beat us 4 times last year.

Despite the fact that it was riddled with mistakes (it seems that the two referee system is meaning a superfast game that all teams are struggling to adjust to – as evidenced by the numerous mistakes on both sides) the game was a true classic. It was only decided when the greatest Warrior of them all, Stacey Jones, took over the game in the final 10 minutes. Until that point he had been drifting, not making any mistakes but when he flicked the switch and set up Brent Tate with a chip and regather it was like the Stacey of old had returned. It was hard to believe he hadn’t played for the Warriors in over three years, even harder to believe that he hadn’t even played in 18 months! And then he provided the perfect bomb for the match winning try.

With Stacey Jones back and able to drift in and out of games until needed (as illustrated yesterday) the Warriors are truly dangerous. In the NBA players like Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Dwayne Wade are regarded as clutch because they take over games when they’re on the line. Jones is the Warriors clutch player and they’re going to be hard to stop as a result.

The one problem I see is the effect he will have on two other integral Warriors. It was noticeable to me that when Jones came on Nathan Fien became skittish. It’s understandable really, Jones has returned to take his spot and while Fien is a more than able hooker he had made the halfback jersey his own. It almost seemed that Fien tried too hard to replicate what Jones was doing when it is not his game. I hope he settles down. The other player is the super sub Lance Hohaia. Hohaia is the perfect game changer off the bench but with Jones back is there room for him, Fien and Hohaia? Or does Ian Henderson, the regular hooker, drop out? Hohaia is injured for another couple of weeks but it will be interesting to see what happens.

Bring on the Broncos next week!


Warriors versus Sea Eagles preview

25 09 2008

The big question heading into Saturday night’s Preliminary Final between the Manly Sea Eagles and the NZ Warriors is whether the fairy tale will continue? Can the Warriors continue their stunning run through the NRL playoffs and reach their second Grand Final?

In many ways they have a better team than that 2002 model. Of course that 2002 team had the single greatest Warrior ever, Stacey Jones and numerous other attacking weapons like Ali Lautiti and Clinton Toopi but their defence was ropey and teams knew that if they could stay with the Warriors until the 60th minute there was a chance they could win. The 2008 Warriors on the other hand have proved their toughness and defensive expertise over the past 12 weeks, winning 10 including the historic upset over the defending champion Melbourne Storm.

As the season has gone on the Warriors have become a team you want to put away early. You don’t want them within striking distance as their defence, led by Michael Luck and Simon Mannering, is brutal and in Manu Vatuvei, Brent Tate, Jerome Ropati and Wade MacKinnon they possess some lethal finishers. Add to this their little guys led by Nathan Fien and brilliantly accentuated by Lance Hohaia, and the Warriors are a fearsome opponent.

The Manly Sea Eagles are a classy opponent and possess Matt Orford, the best player in the NRL this past season. They will be tough to beat. But this Warriors team has the feeling of a team of destiny. The game will be close and I’m half hoping/half expecting a thrilling come from behind victory.

Warriors by 2

awesome stuff

21 09 2008

Well that was awesome. The Warriors hammered the Roosters in the second half to win 30 – 13. I didn’t expect the game to end up being so one-sided especially after a first half which the Roosters dominated to end up leading 13 – 6. But the Warriors came out and scored 24 unanswered points and it’s them who will play the Manly Sea Eagles in next week’s preliminary final. Awesome stuff.

We’ve got a good shot at winning next week, we’ve won 10 out of 12 games plus we have Wade MacKinnon back from suspension. Manly beat us twice this year but we’re a better team now and I reckon its fifty fifty. Can’t wait!

Warriors versus Roosters preview

18 09 2008

Friday night’s NRL finals game between the NZ Warriors and the Sydney Roosters is going to be a cracker. The Warriors have won 9 of their last 11 including last week’s victory over the minor premiers and are a far cry from the rabble that started the season.

This isn’t the first time the Warriors have played the Roosters in the Finals. They met in 2002 in the Grand Final. Unfortunately the result didn’t suit us. The Roosters didn’t so much as win that game as obliterate us in it. Stacey Jones played superbly (he was at the height of his powers and arguably one of the top 3 players in the competition) and scored a sublime try just after half time to put us ahead but that seemed to wake up the Roosters and they ran over the top of us.

History is not going to repeat this week. The Warriors are playing winning football based around go forward from their impressive pack and the occasional burst of razzle dazzle from the likes of Manu Vatuvei and Jerome Ropati. The Warriors defence has improved markedly as well and it’s hard to believe they’re the same side that was leaking 40 or so points every week.

The one area where the Roosters shade us is in the halves but then it’s the same situation most weeks and the Warriors have just kept on winning.

Another big advantage is the Warriors playing at home. The game is a sell out and the crowd are probably worth a try or two in themselves.

Last week’s victory was the greatest in club history. This week’s victory won’t match that for drama and storylines but it will happen.

The Warriors by 8

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.