Thoughts and talking points from the Warriors’ convincing 20-8 win over the depleted Titans at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday.
Two from two
How good’s this?! The Warriors’ history has been a bitter tale of early-season frustration, embarrassment and undperformance – even in their better years. But a pair of comprehensive wins to open a campaign 2-0 for the first time since 2009 puts the team in a strong position.
Slow starts have crippled the Warriors’ finals bids of the last six years, so banking two of the 12-13 wins required to make the top eight this early is vital. The in-form outfit now head to Canberra in search of the club’s first-ever 3-0 start.
Just as encouraging as the Warriors’ form is the understated way they’ve gone about their business so far and their recognition that there’s still a lot of improvement needed before dreams of September grandeur can be fulfilled.
"We just expect everyone to just do their jobs" Tuivasa-Sheck
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) March 17, 2018
It’s the Warriors’ year! #NRLWarriorsTitans
— Nicki (@nicki_mtm) March 17, 2018
Ball-playing balancing act
The Warriors lived up to their vow to get back to playing ‘Warriors footy’ in overwhelming style against the Titans. It was certainly entertaining and the vast majority of the 27 offloads and adventurous passing stuck…but it was probably a bit too much.
The helter-skelter style came at the expense of laying a solid platform, and a return of four tries was subpar given the amount of quality ball and scoring opportunities they had against a categorically outplayed Gold Coast side.
It’s undoubtedly an improvement on the stifling, overcautious style of 2017, but somewhere in between the direct approach against Souths and the reckless abandon of their win over the Titans is probably where they need to end up.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s blistering start to the season is especially satisfying for those of us that refused to submit to the hysteria and argued the fullback was actually outstanding for the struggling Warriors in 2017.
The captain was untouchable against the Titans, recording a try, a try-assist, three line-breaks and a shade under 200 running metres to continue a form-line I promise to ram down his misguided critics’ throats until the ‘R’, ‘T’ and ‘S’ keys are worn off my keyboard.
I’m anticipating being able to buy a new one after investing on Tuivasa-Sheck for the Dally M at a juicy pre-season price of $34.
The leadership of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the @NZWarriors was sensational. Getting behind his teammates anytime he could to raise their spirits, lift them up from a tough hitup/tak. True leadership. To top it off, he raised the bar and gave it 100 percent when ever in possession.
— KW (@kiwiwayfarer) March 17, 2018
Right side, strong side
Forget ‘Leipana’, the hottest new right-side combo in the NRL goes by the name ‘Hakutu’a’, with Tohu Harris, Peta Hiku and David Fusitu’a lighting it up for the second week in a row.
Shaun Johnson’s electric start to 2017 is providing the trio with ample space and opportunities – and they seem hell-bent on trying to turn every foray into points. Harris is causing absolute carnage with his footwork and deft ball-playing, the classy Hiku is the perfect centre link-man and Fusitu’a is creeping up on Melbourne’s wingers in the NRL’s best finisher stakes.
So yeah, Hakutu’a – it’s a thing, feel free to start using it. You saw it here first!
— NRL (@NRL) March 17, 2018
A Titanic bogey
The Warriors are notorious for getting tangled up in a hoodoo against certain clubs, so it’s refreshing to see them continues their dominance over a rival. The Warriors have now won 14 of their last 15 against the Titans, whose 7-16 all-time record in competition with the Warriors is their second-worst against any side. The Warriors will be approaching their Round 20 road trip to the Gold Coast – where they have won seven straight – with confidence.
Who misses out? Part 1
The strong-running but severely limited Ken Maumalo has done enough in the opening two rounds to hang on to his backline starting spot, despite the compelling first-grade claims of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Blake Ayshford and exciting yet-to-debut winger Lewis Soosmea.
But Gerard Beale’s impending return – likely to be around Round 8-10 – will force Stephen Kearney’s hand. Beale has played plenty of football on the wing, which means a straight swap for Maumalo looms as the most obvious option. But he provides more value and stability as a centre; Peta Hiku is unlikely to make way, which puts the acid on Solomone Kata.
Kata, though, has ample experience on the wing (who can forget his hat-trick in a man-of-the-match performance in the 2014 NYC grand final?), and shuffling the nuggetty powerhouse out one spot wider could be the eventual answer to Kearney’s three-quarter line puzzle.
Got to be someone better who can play on the other wing for the Warriors than Ken Maumalo. #NRLWarriorsTitans
— Elli🤔tt Smith (@elliottnz) March 17, 2018
Who misses out? Part 2
Then there’s the more immediate conundrum of who gets dropped when the great Simon Mannering returns in Round 4 or 5.
Something of a surprise replacement in the No.13 jumper, Ligi Sao has done an OK job in Mannering’s stead – but certainly not enough to demand inclusion in the 17. Sao’s starting-team selection suggests he is a favourite of Kearney’s, however.
But it would be almost impossible to send Leivaha Pulu, Sam Lisone or Bunty Afoa back down to ISP after the bench trio’s outstanding efforts in the opening two rounds. Running with a four-forward bench is another option following only brief cameos for Sam Cook so far, but having no dummy-half alternative is a risky option.
Meanwhile, Isaiah Papali’i’s potential absence with a knee injury could open the door for the likes of reserve grade props Albert Vete and Chris Satae to join the interchange, with Pulu an easy second-row pick following a superb display on the edge against the Titans.