So the NRL 9’s has come and gone, and all in all, the tournament can be hailed as a great success for both rugby league, and Duco Events.
Let’s get one thing straight – there is nothing to suggest that success in the NRL 9’s provides a direct correlation to success in the NRL Premiership. Just ask the Cowboys. Whilst they did extremely well to win at Eden Park, they are about as much chance as winning the Premiership as the Newtown Jets.
However the tournament does provide a few subtle pointers as to how a team’s season may pan out. And it doesn’t augur well for the Warriors.
Sure, they made the semi-final, and looked very impressive for most of pool play. They ran teams around, and scored some tries when there was seemingly nothing on. At times they looked a million bucks. But so did most of the other 16 teams.
When you boil it down, there are three major factors that have plagued the Warriors in recent years, and all of them came to the fore on Sunday.
And, as usual, fitness is at the top of the list.
Come semi-final time (and the last quarter against the Bunnies) the Warriors looked absolutely spent, after a grand total of 72 minutes of football in two days. With an unlimited interchange no less. It’s not good enough, and in two pre-seasons it is already a disturbing pattern under Matthew Elliott. Yes, there were a number of non-first graders in the side, but name a team that didn’t have that level of inexperience. The big boys like Tamou, Taumalolo and Thaiday all looked mighty fit throughout the final.
On the back of fatigue comes dodgy factor number two – dumb decision making. When you are trailing 8-0 with 4 minutes to go in a knockout game, the last player you want at dummy half is your chief playmaker. Yet the Warriors decided that the best use for Shaun Johnson in this scenario was as a distributor. Mmmm. That is not taking anything away from Johnson, who looked electric with ball in hand over the weekend. His vision to score the 5 point try against the fast finishing Bunnies was the difference between the two teams.
Factor number three is the defence around the fringes. It was noticeable that after Sam Tonkin was targeted by other sides around the ruck, he was sent out wide to try and cover. He did little wrong, but don’t be surprised when the Premiership proper starts, the big boys run at Tomkin all day. He’s a gutsy player, and has obvious talent, but whether his front on defence has really been tested at Super League level is another question altogether.
The Tomkin signing is interesting. It all looks very much like they have put all the eggs in one basket, and whilst the Warriors have done well in getting rid of the likes of the hugely ineffectual Todd Lowrie (which wasn’t their call anyway), all of the available salary cap has been spent on yet another outside back.
Yes, there were positives. Matagi, Laumape, Fusitua and Ikahahifo all looked great with ball in hand.
Yet you still get the impression that Kon Hurrell’s next move will be from centre to prop, and that there is a lot of flash, but no real substance in the middle part of their game.
It is very early days, and the Warriors will welcome back the likes of Mannering and Friend to guide them around the park. But there are 15 other teams who will be welcoming back their own set of superstars who didn’t make it to Auckland.
It must be reiterated that this kind of competition can only give you a pointer on how a team is tracking. But the disturbing traits that have dogged the Warriors for the last couple of seasons will should do nothing but suggest that 2014 could be another long year for fans of the Mt Smart based side.