It is too easy to get caught up in the emotion of how badly the Warriors are playing right now and demand wholesale change.
Saturday night’s loss to the Cowboys at Mt Smart Stadium was one of the worst performances in the club’s history – and there have been a few candidates – but it would be over the top to start sacking coaches and captains and having a mass clean out.
No-one would deem the display against the Cowboys or their performances over the past month or so acceptable but you also don’t want to start throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Let’s get some perspective – the Warriors are a club that needs to change certain aspects of their first grade side so that they become more consistent and more rounded and therefore become a title-contending team. They haven’t been close to one over the past four seasons. Some of that change is already underway with incoming chief executive Jim Doyle heading up the club for the past nine months or so. Doyle has signed big-name stars Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke as well as impressive Manly forward Ligi Sao. He’s already begun the process of releasing players not in the plans for 2016. There could be up to 15 or so players leaving the organisation this year. This is year one for him to shape the roster and the impact of that will not be witnessed until next season. It will take at least two years to get it close to where he wants just by the average length of NRL contracts.
Doyle has spoken of off-season reviews into all aspects of the club – that is a no-brainer. The results of that review will make for interesting reading, particularly if done correctly. No aspect of the club should be exempt from scrutiny either. Having said that, the Warriors need to be careful not to wipe away things that are working or are close to working with a little tweaking here and there. That is where the skill comes into this part of the operation. It would be easy to jump to conclusions – sacking coaches or players and starting again. But starting again means many more years of rebuilding and the Warriors have just landed two of the biggest free agent signings in their history. It would silly to scrap everything and start again, making those stars arrive at a club that needs to being back at the start. You’d be testing their desire to play for the club in doing that.
The past month of football has been some of the worst in the club’s 20-year history. They have been dealt a rough hand in terms of injuries to key players and the wheels have fallen off what was once a half promising season. When that happens the players heads can go down and the situation snowballs. It was basically a reserve grade quality side that took the field against the Cowboys and they produced a reserve grade quality performance. That doesn’t mean that round one 2016 will be at that level.
The foundation is actually there to make some real progress. Some further tweaking of the roster, some major improvements to club culture, attention to detail and self-discipline will make this side a much better outfit. Whether personnel need to lose their jobs is up in the air and hopefully the review will provide those answers.
If it were me in charge, I would look to try and offload blockbusting centre Konrad Hurrell and try-scoring record holder Manu Vatuvei, to free up more cash. Both players have their upsides and this isn’t a personal crack at either one. The Warriors have in Tuivasa-Sheck, Luke and Shaun Johnson three of the best attacking players in the world in the most important positions. To maximise that talent, the Warriors are going to need players that will be suited playing with those three stars. A hard-working forward pack that can hold their own against any other side and a back-line that isn’t prone to errors or defensive frailty would top that list. In Hurrell and Vatuvei you have x-factor attacking players but guys that are prone to errors and defensive blunders. Their attacking prowess is overkill on the Warriors 2016 side and the shortcomings will hinder the effectiveness of the new big three.
There are still a handful of bargains to be had from the free agent pool but as other teams look to do similar things as the Warriors this off-season their best bet would be to cut deals with teams that have players still under contract.
If you consider a starting front row of Jacob Lillyman, Luke and Ben Matulino and the back row of Ryan Hoffman, Bodene Thompson and Simon Mannering, depth in the forward pack is the only missing ingredient. Sam Lisone and Albert Vete have impressed in their rookie seasons but I’d like to see one more established front rower in the rotation. Raymond Faitala-Mariner hasn’t looked out of place and could add depth to the back-row stocks, while Ben Henry should be offered another deal. New recruit Sao will also bolster those stocks.
Johnson will be at halfback while Thomas Leuluai and Tuimoala Lolohea will scrap it out for the number six jumper. Lolohea has more upside and Leuluai might be better suited to playing off the bench, covering hooker and the halves. Mason Lino got his first taste of first grade on Saturday night and showed some signs of being worth back-up, particularly in a side that has spent heavily on a starting 17. Solomone Kata may have done enough to deserve a crack at one centre spot but the Warriors desperately need a world class defensive centre, who is preferably good at getting out of dummy-half to get the set going forward early in the count. The likes of David Fusitua and Jonathan Wright could handle one wing spot but the Warriors would need another to replace Vatuvei under my example. Tuivasa-Sheck is obviously the fullback. They could do with another back-up wing/fullback but those are a dime a dozen and shouldn’t break the bank.
Could it be possible to get someone like Dean Whare and Dale Copley to fit into the Warriors back-line next year? That would be a very good fit if it could be done. Likewise adding someone like Aiden Tolman into the front row stocks would make a massive impact. These are just examples of course but putting that altogether would provide a top 17 capable of going deep into the playoffs.
Warriors players currently signed for 2016
Fullback: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Wingers: Manu Vatuvei, David Fusitua, Jonathan Wright
Centres: Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Matt Allwood
Five-Eighths: Tuimoala Lolohea, Thomas Leuluai
Halfbacks: Shaun Johnson, Mason Lino
Hookers: Issac Luke, Nathaniel Roache
Props: Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete, Charlie Gubb, Toafofoa Sipley
Second Rowers: Ryan Hoffman, Bodene Thompson, Raymond Faitala-Mariner
Locks: Simon Mannering, Ligi Sao