We’re only two rounds into 2018, but the Warriors’ impressive showings in the opening fortnight of the NRL premiership have already made pundits and players from rival clubs sit up and take notice.
It was players’ night on NRL360 on Tuesday, and Cronulla back-rower Luke Lewis and Wests Tigers five-eighth Josh Reynolds gushed about the rejuvenated Warriors getting back to their trademark adlib style in Saturday’s win over Gold Coast.
“Which Warriors team would you prefer to play – the one that wants to get into the grind and focus on completion, or the side that came up with 27 offloads and tortured the Titans?” host Ben Ikin asked his guests.
“Personally, I’d like to play against the team that wants to scrap it out,” Lewis admitted.
“When you’re playing against a team that offloads, you’re doing two, three, four efforts in a row, and it absolutely takes so much gas out of you.
“At the same time the Warriors’ offloads are sticking.”
Lewis offered a subtle warning, however, which the Warriors would be prudent to heed after getting too loose with their second-phase play at times – something more capable defensive units than the Titans will look to take advantage of.
“On the flipside of that, if your defensive mentality is to go in and stay up, you can turn it into a bonus for yourself,” Lewis explained.
“But at the moment they’re sticking and getting it spot on and scoring tries off the back of it.”
Ikin then posed a question most Warriors fans and New Zealand-based experts are probably too gun-shy to grapple with at this early juncture.
“Are the Warriors the real deal? Is this a better version in 2018 than we’ve seen in recent years?” Ikin quizzed.
But the currently injured Reynolds was emphatic about the threat the Warriors present with improved fitness and a harder edge underpinning their return to an attacking brand of football.
“It’s scary now because I think for years everyone’s been waiting for the Warriors to be able to get into a game … set for set,” Reynolds said.
“But now, if they’re doing that with the offloads, how do you stop them?
“Blake Green’s been really good for them, he’s directing them really well, he’s setting the game up.
“But then one-on-one – Shaun Johnson’s going to beat me one-on-one a lot of the time, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is going to beat a lot of players – and if they can stay in the games, they’ll be finishing them.”
The Warriors shelved the offload during a difficult 2017 campaign, with coach Stephen Kearney putting an overemphasis on completion rates. It resulted in some of the most unattractive, uninspiring footy in the Warriors’ history.
But they are starting to get the balance right again, according to Reynolds.
“It is actually scary, and it’s hard to play against. That offload, when they do stick, it’s definitely the hardest thing that I come up against.
“You go up, you think the tackle’s finished, you run back – bang, another offload gone and another 10 metres.
“It’s a coach’s worst nightmare.”
— Russell Ayres (@RussellWAyres) March 17, 2018
Ikin, who described the Warriors’ change in style as their “perfect mix”, underlined the key factor in the club delivering on their promise in 2018.
“It’s been a theme for most of the coaches that have been winning in the early rounds, that this game goes for 80 minutes,” he said.
“If the Warriors can build that skill, they’re going to be very hard to beat this year.”
Kent queries buyers’ credentials
During the ‘Like it/Don’t like it’ segment at the end of the show, co-host Paul Kent expressed doubts over the private consortium that includes retired NFL stars taking over the Warriors – somewhat overlooking that the group is led by businessman and politician Richard Fale.
“I’ll say I don’t like it, from the point of view that I don’t think just having money shows that you can run an NRL club,” Kent said.
“Private ownership is a bit of a problem for clubs in some respects.
“Nathan Tinkler (at the Newcastle Knights) is the perfect example – he came in, he was worth half a billion dollars, by the time he left three years later he was in debt.”
Ikin countered by pointing to the largely successful 17-year tenure of current owner Eric Watson: “If you’re using the Tinkler example, what about the Watson example?”
“I want to see some business expertise. Being a former NFL player doesn’t qualify you to run an NRL club,” Kent replied.
“If they’ve got a good case, all for it.”
There's not going to be an in between with Richard Fale.
His ownership is either going to be brilliant and innovative, or an unmitigated disaster.
— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) March 17, 2018
Johnson’s Mad Minute
Shaun Johnson made an appearance on Andrew Voss’ excellent new show The Fan, with the in-form No.7 getting grilled by Voss in the ‘Mad Minute’ segment.
Among Johnson’s revelations were:
-The most tries he scored in a game as a youngster was “six or seven” in the under-9s.
-His first paid job was a dish boy for Ripples Café in Gulf Harbour.’
-His first sporting hero was Stacey Jones.
-LeBron James would be his choice as the sporting star to be for a day, while he’d trade places with Warriors teammate Nate Roache for a week.
-Skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is his most mirror-obsessed teammate.
Johnson then signed off with a diabolical attempt at an Australian accent: