FINAL TRIAL CREATES MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

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The Warriors’ 20-6 trial loss to Wests Tigers in Rotorua did little to temper widespread wooden spoon predictions from across the Tasman – or from pessimistic fans on this side of the ditch.

The home side dominated territory and possession in the first half but were held to 6-all by the Tigers, while the Warriors were outscored 14-nothing after the break and never really looked like scoring.

The Warriors’ attack was clunky and unimaginative. Defensively sound in the opening 40, that area of their game fell away in the second stanza.

There were positives – mostly from an individual standpoint as some big guns made successful maiden appearances in 2020, with others staking their claims for a Round 1 spot with solid performances. The selection picture was further muddied in some positions, however, courtesy of a few underwhelming displays.

A couple more injury concerns, too, with Agnatius Paasi (leg) and Lachlan Burr (neck) leaving the field. Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck departed early in the second half as a precaution thanks to an ankle complaint.

The next time the Warriors take the field will be on March 14 at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium for a daunting opening-round NRL assignment against the Knights. Here’s how the club’s contentious line-up scenario looks through TWL‘s eyes with the pre-season footy done and dusted:

 

BACK-THREE

Sound outing from Tuivasa-Sheck, who was highly involved in attack as the plan to ease his ball-carrying load out of Warriors territory begins to take shape. Sent Ken Maumalo in for his side’s only try with a nice touch. Hayze Perham filled in well at the back following RTS’s early mark.

Aside from the easy finish for the four-pointer, Maumalo came as advertised: 200-plus metres from 19 carries, 61 one of them post-contact. Caught out defensively a couple of times but also jammed in well to snuff out some Tigers raids.

Patrick Herbert effectively ensured he will get first crack at the right wing spot with a busy showing after a largely anonymous Palmerston North trial. The 2019 debutant ran for 119 metres on 14 carries and recorded a team-high six tackle-breaks, as well as making some good defensive plays.

Edward Kosi had limited time off the bench, while fellow Palmerston North standout Setu Tu was not included in the squad.

 

CENTRES

David Fusitu’a’s surprise shift to right centre is starting to look like the right call. He was a handful for the Tigers, making 113 metres from 11 runs. The tryscoring machine gives the Warriors a big body in the centres who can bust the line and create opportunities; the positives of the move outweigh the negatives of losing his finishing ability on the flank.

Peta Hiku got through his first match of 2020 after off-season surgery. Involved in attack as per usual, Hiku struggled without the ball opposite a very impressive Joey Leilua, finishing with nine tackles and six misses. Should be better for the run.

Centre has been a perennial problem spot but this could prove to be one of the Warriors’ better pairings.

 

HALVES

Blake Green looked OK, taking the line on to create some chances and mixing some good kicks with some poor ones – an area he clearly needs assistance with from his other playmakers.

From TWL‘s perspective, Chanel Harris-Tavita has to get the No.6 start ahead of Kodi Nikorima.

Nikorima had a nice hand in the Warriors’ only try but seemed anchored to the same channel on the left edge and did not kick the ball once. Harris-Tavita seemed far more eager to shoulder some of the responsibility for steering the team around, forcing a repeat set with a deft kick and demanding more of the ball while also defending very well.

A sloppy CHT pass led to a Tigers try, but based on the pre-season evidence he is far more capable of being the five-eighth companion Green and the Warriors need.

 

HOOKER

Off-season signing Wayde Egan topped the Warriors’ tackle count and his dummy-half work was sound. But he ran the ball just once for a four-metre gain – a concern for Stephen Kearney if the Warriors are to play a more attack-focused style in 2020. The Warriors are coming off four seasons with Issac Luke’s dummy-half running as part of their armoury; they need at least some sort of punch from Egan.

Karl Lawton was more eager to get out of acting half, making a couple of darting runs as well as defending solidly.

With the ‘loser’ in the Nikorima-CHT battle likely to wear the No.14 jersey, there is likely to be just one spot in the 17 for Egan and Lawton to scrap over. Looking purely at the two trial matches, it shouldn’t yet be cut and dried.

 

FRONT-ROW

Starting props Leeson Ah Mau and Agnatius Paasi combined for 300 metres, with Ah Mau especially impressive. The Warriors will be sweating on Paasi’s fitness after he left the field with a leg injury, with the club’s stocks up front already running perilously low.

With the ink still drying on a new two-year contract, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown put his hand up for Round 1 inclusion with eight runs for 77 metres and 27 tackles without a miss. JTB provides the size the Warriors are crying out for, but a bit more aggression from the tyro would be great.

 

BACK-ROW

First and foremost, it was extremely encouraging to see Tohu Harris back on the park for the first time since mid-June. The Warriors’ marquee forward had 13 runs for 129 metres and 26 tackles, looking like he’d never been away. Some nice touches on attack and his combination with Fusitu’a on the right should be a real threat.

Adam Blair’s best attributes are wasted on the edge and he should be the starting 13, particularly with the busy, dynamic Jazz Tevaga sidelined for the early rounds. Isaiah Papali’i performed adequately with 26 tackles (no misses) and over 100 metres, but he could benefit from coming off the bench instead.

Josh Curran – superb for the Indigenous All Stars – received a second-row start but largely failed to grasp the opportunity. Eliesa Katoa, arguably the best player on the field in Palmerston North, produced some classy touches on both sides of the ball in limited game-time.

The 20-year-old Katoa would be TWL‘s pick to start alongside Harris, with Blair at lock – but we’re fairly certain Kearney will opt for Blair in the second-row and Papali’i at lock.

Lachlan Burr didn’t do a great deal while on the field and left early with a neck injury; the 2019 regular is under a bit of pressure for his interchange spot. The versatile Taane Milne made the most of a short stint with four runs for 46 metres, but he would seem a long-shot at this stage to get a bench berth as outside-back/second-row cover.

 

PREDICTED ROUND 1 LINE-UP: Tuivasa-Sheck, Maumalo, Hiku, Fusitu’a, Hebert, Nikorima, Green, Ah Mau, Egan, Paasi, Blair, Harris, Papali’i. Int: Harris-Tavita, Taunoa-Brown, Burr, Curran.

TWL’s PREFERRED LINE-UP: Tuivasa-Sheck, Maumalo, Hiku, Fusitu’a, Tu, Harris-Tavita, Green, Ah Mau, Egan, Paasi, Katoa, Harris, Blair. Int: Nikorima, Taunoa-Brown, Papali’i, Curran.

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