Thoughts and talking points from the Warriors’ Round 1 statement against South Sydney.
How good is waking up on a Sunday morning after a season-opening Warriors performance like that?
In the soul-crushing six seasons since their 2011 grand final appearance, the only times I can recall feeling this pumped up and positive were during the Warriors’ giant-killing mid-2013 run and after the Nathan-Friend-miracle-try-assist-inspired demolition of Melbourne 2015 that briefly bumped the club into the top four.
The passion, toughness and confidence on show in the 32-20 win over Souths – smashing a host of hoodoos on the way – was goosebump-inducing. There was substance to this performance; they rode out the rough patches and brushed off those crucial junctures where they would normally implode.
The Warriors are astutely keeping it low-key, but their Perth breakthrough was a forceful middle finger to the critics.
Welcome back, Issac
Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck were brilliant, but I hope the three Dally M points went to Issac Luke. The veteran hooker comprehensively outpointed Souths livewire Damien Cook with a display reminiscent of his electric Rabbitohs pomp. Imagine what a season of that from their No.9 could do for the Warriors?
No Mannering, no worries. The way the Warriors’ forwards stood up was as encouraging as any takeaway from the momentous victory.
Tohu Harris was outstanding, but the efforts of 19-year-old Isaiah Papali’i and bench trio Bunty Afoa, Sam Lisone and Leivaha Pulu, in particular, up against the big Rabbitohs unit pointed to a major mentality shift.
While Souths superstars such as Sam Burgess lost their rag, the Warriors forwards just buckled down and focused on their next job – invariably doing it with intent, aggression and poise.
Finding the balance
Moving away from the suffocating safety-first tactics of 2017 and reintegrating ‘Warriors football’ into this team’s make-up didn’t shape as a seamless task, but they nailed it straight off the bat. The Warriors achieved 80 percent completions but let the ball sing whenever the opportunity arose.
A lot of that had to do with Shaun Johnson taking the line on and constantly asking questions of the South Sydney defence, but at the risk of going off early, it seems they’ve found the right balance already. Stephen Kearney and his staff should be applauded.
Recruits steady the ship
With perhaps the exception of Harris and a couple of standout moments from Blake Green, the Warriors’ bevy of recruits was solid rather than spectacular. But the calmness and cohesion that pair, plus Peta Hiku and even Adam Blair at times, brought to the side was profound. This year, drafting in proven winners appears to be paying early dividends.
Carrying big Ken
It was one of Ken Maumalo’s best outings in first grade – a game-high running metres tally and a (rare) try. There’s a lot to like about having such a big body on the flank, but there’s still too many negative variables in his game, with a bad drop early in the second half and some dicey defensive moments blighting Maumalo’s performance. He’s like Manu minus the tryscoring potency.
Meanwhile, we have Gerard Beale on the comeback trail from injury, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (who has seven tries in as many NRL games; Maumalo is batting 10 tries from 42 appearances) busting for another chance and dynamic 20-year-old Lewis Soosmea scoring a NSW Cup hat-trick to open the season.
Big Ken needs to rack up the meat pies and eliminate the gaffes to hang onto his spot long-term.
David the tryscoring Goliath
Peta Hiku may have burgled him of an opening-round hat-trick, but playing on the end of a right-side attack with Hiku, Harris and Johnson is going to keep David Fusitu’a at the pointy end of the tryscoring charts all season long.
One of the great finishers in the NRL today, ‘Fus’ mixed athleticism, power and a great pair of mitts to bag a blistering first-half double. Fusitu’a now has 36 tries in 58 games, despite frequent injury interruptions and being shuffled around wing, centre and fullback in an underperforming side.
No Warrior has scored more than 17 tries in a season since Vatuvei in 2010; that’s set to change this year if Fusitu’a gets a full season on the wing.