CURRAN, TAUNOA-BROWN TAKE ALL STARS OPPORTUNITY

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Most Warriors fans would have revelled in the Māori All Stars stirring 30-16 victory over their Indigenous counterparts on the Gold Coast – surely the finest match in the concept’s history.

Adam Blair co-captained the Māori triumph in a passionate performance, while under-pressure half Kodi Nikorima scored a first-half try.

But from an individual standpoint, the performance of low-profile fringe forwards Josh Curran and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown for the Indigenous All Stars side was arguably the most encouraging aspect of an absorbing contest for the club.

Curran came off the bench to score his team’s first try, steaming over under the posts after running onto a Josh Kerr offload.

The 20-year-old, who made his NRL debut for Sydney Roosters in early-2019 before switching to the Warriors mid-season and playing two more first-grade games, looked at home in top company. He was afforded 40 minutes of game-time by coach Laurie Daley, racking up six runs for 59 metres and 23 tackles.

Curran was caught flat-footed at marker as Brandon Smith scurried away for a vital 69th minute try, but it was otherwise hard to fault his effort.

After receiving a surprise front-row start for the Indigenous All Stars, Taunoa-Brown impressed with his willingness to take on an experienced, bruising Māori pack headlined by Blair, Jesse Bromwich, Corey Harawira-Naera and Zane Tetavano.

Taunoa-Brown, currently at the Warriors on a trial basis, produced a remarkable 10 runs for 68 metres and 29 tackles in just 28 minutes on the paddock as well as popping a nice offload. A late handling error was an unfortunate strike against an otherwise admirable display.

The ex-Norths Devils bookend’s eye-catching audition could not have come at a better time for the Warriors. Bunty Afoa’s season-ending injury has been trailed by the surprise news of Sam Lisone’s release to join the Titans, thinning out the club’s already-modest front-row ranks.

Taunoa-Brown brings much-needed size to the party and must now shape as a genuine chance to play against Newcastle in Round 1, while Curran has turned up the heat on NRL incumbents Lachlan Burr and Isaiah Papali’i.

On the other side of the All Stars fence, the appraisal of Blair and Nikorima was less cut and dried.

Blair’s presence was crucial to the Māori All Stars’ victory. Typically busy and aggressive in defence, Blair made 10 runs for 83 metres and produced the offload for Smith’s match-sealing second try.

If that sort of performance is to the be the maligned veteran’s benchmark minimum for 2020, Warriors fans should be satisfied. Maybe not $600,000-a-season’s worth happy, but it will at least quell the week-to-week criticism that dogged Blair’s 2019 campaign.

Meanwhile, Nikorima – locked in a dogfight with Chanel Harris-Tavita for the Warriors’ No.6 jersey – probably didn’t do enough. His speed and support play netted a four-pointer from a deflected kick and he had some nice playmaking moments on the left edge, particularly when combining with Kalyn Ponga, and had two line-break assists.

But he also made four errors and his overall involvement underwhelmed, rarely running and failing to properly take the opportunity to shoulder the kicking load – an area the Warriors, and Blake Green, need help with in 2020. He was benched for the final quarter, with centre Dylan Walker shifting to pivot.

Despite Nikorima’s attacking flashes,  Harris-Tavita should have his nose in front based on the rivals’ respective outings on Saturday.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT AS TYROS STEP UP IN TRIAL

The match also provided a fairly unsubtle reminder of the Warriors’ inability to keep the best young Kiwi talent on these shores. The inimitable Brandon Smith – a resounding man-of-the-match with two tries, 175 metres and four line-breaks from hooker – and Corey Harawira-Naera were the two best players on the field. Both were lured across the Tasman as teenagers, have a few NRL seasons under their belts, are entrenched in the New Zealand Test team at 23 and 24 respectively – and are now Māori rugby league heroes. Canterbury product Jordan Riki also looks to be yet another crack back-rower to come off the Brisbane Broncos’ production line.

From a wider perspective, the big winner was the All Stars concept. From young Quaden Bayles’ inspirational pre-match appearance, to the spine-tingling war cries of both teams and a high-quality, enthralling 80 minutes of footy, the match is now firmly entrenched on the rugby league calendar. It clearly means an immeasurable and equal amount to BOTH teams – the main failing of the old Indigenous versus NRL/World All Stars encounters. The mutual respect between the two proud cultures is incredibly moving to observe, while the game was Origin-like in its intensity and drama.

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