WARRIOR-ROO BLOG NO.11: THE POISONED CHALICE

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Robert Anderson is a Brisbane-based Warriors fan and long-time member of the club. Throughout 2020, he will share his memories and thoughts on his beloved team for This Warriors Life. Here’s the 11th edition of Robert’s ‘Warrior-Roo’ blog (find previous entries HERE):

Friday night did not go to plan it’s fair to say. A terrible hiding at the hands of South Sydney by the unflattering scoreline of 40-12. It could have been different if one crucial decision had gone our way in the form of Latrell Mitchell basically knocking ‘Fus’ out cold when attempting to score a try. Not only did we not get a penalty try, or even a penalty, but the Rabbitohs marched up the other end and scored with only 12 men! Hey, that’s the Warriors for you though.

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But that aside the performance was not up to scratch in any way, shape, or form. While looking threatening in attack at times, we really lacked the polish to convert opportunities into points. And once again we really seemed to be exposed for lack of speed out wide. Defensively, there were some absolute softies let in, with Damien Cook’s try being an absolute howler.

While the Warriors have had many hoodoos in our 25 and a bit seasons, it would seem that we are now well and truly South Sydney’s bunnies. In the last decade we’ve registered only five wins against the Redfern boys. Take out the surprise Round 1 win in 2018 and our last win came back in 2012. I’m constantly reminded of this fact as I have a couple of good mates who love the red and green and seem to get amnesia after the match and need reminding of the score…

So that then brings us up to big story – coach Stephen Kearney’s shock sacking. I say shock in the sense that the timing more than anything is more than a little peculiar. Sure, he hasn’t had the on-field results that we all would have liked but all reports are that he’d done a fantastic job to bring all the boys together during our unprecedented extended stay in Australia.

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Going back to his initial appointment at the back end of 2016, personally I approached it with caution. Granted he had built the Kiwis into a competitive force and had the silverware in the cupboard to prove it, but on the other hand his ill-fated stint as head coach of Parramatta in 2011-12 still stuck out like a sore thumb. I did feel however that this could be different as he’s a Kiwi and a former Warrior, and probably had a better chance than any other coach in our history of really understanding the players and the culture.

Immediately his gameplans lacked imagination and seemed to centered around conservative, completion-based football rather than attacking flair. We did cut him some slack in his first season as he essentially inherited a team that was not quite there. The 2018 follow-up was a big success and saw the return of the attacking style that we all knew and loved. Again, it wasn’t a consistent season, but a great start and solid finish saw us make the finals for the first time in seven years. But Shaun Johnson seemed to take all the offensive prowess with him as he departed at the end of the season and 2019 was a sorry return to a dour style.

Coming from the Melbourne Storm system, both as a player and an assistant coach, it looked as though Kearney attempted to incorporate the same successful structure at the Warriors. The big problem was that we just don’t have the same calibre of cattle to execute and when we were bad it stuck out like dogs’ you-know-what. Throw in a Smith, Slater or Cronk into the mix and you might have a different story.

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You would have thought that with everything going on and the sacrifices that the team has made that SK would get some sort of reprieve, regardless of the results in 2020. The goodwill associated with the club would rub off on the owners and senior management and commonsense would see him at least stay out the year. Well, the answer is evidently a cold, hard no, and to be honest it will more than likely be the party pooper in the feelgood story of the nomadic Warriors.

While I don’t think he was the coach for us, he clearly tried his heart out and put a lot of effort into the team and the culture at the club. Personally, all our experiences meeting him have been first class. At the Gold Coast away member’s function we were lucky enough to win the major prize – two return flights to NZ to attend a game of our choice at Mt Smart. We went over for the match against Canberra later in the year, and despite the heavy loss to the Raiders, it was an amazing day. We met SK later in the gym and he apologised for the on-field performance and said he was sorry he “couldn’t look after us on the field”. He didn’t really have to give us the time of day, but he went out of his way to make us feel welcome and I’ll never forget that.

I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you at the Warriors, Mooks, but unfortunately some things just aren’t meant to be. With a string of failed coaches in our wake, now more than ever the next appointment needs to hit the nail on the head. At the end of the day, all we want is to win…and be able to give it back to my Rabbitohs mates every once in a while!

THIS WARRIORS LIFE PODCAST 2020: EP 13 – POST-KEARNEY

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