FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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Following the anguish of their capitulation in Sunday's clash against the Cowboys, the Warriors should have now given themselves a launching pad for greater honours in 2008.
I, like many, was never totally convinced that the Warriors had the appropriate personnel to make it through the finals, and doubt must still surround whether enough key changes have been effected to rectify this in 2008.
The Warrior's 2007 campaign came to a screeching halt in searing heat in front of a hostile Townsville crowd. Remarkably on paper, the Warriors came up against a far weaker adversary, a team whose weakness across the paddock was supplemented by two uncanny anomalies.
The Warriors turned over far too much ball in the finals - conceding possession cheaply - which meant yet again they were forced to complete far more tackles than their opponents. This time a glaring gulf of possession saw the Warriors complete a total of 328 tackles compared to the Cowboys' 206.
Where the Warriors have fallen down is the lack of a 'game breaker' within the squad - a player with the ability to bust a game wide open. Thurston, Bowen, Williams, Folau, Inu and Stewart are all players with such an ability. A player of this calibre can, in one play, counteract a negative aspect of a team's performance - like an inability to complete their sets.
Earlier in the season a reversal of fortunes resulted in the Warriors ending the minor premiership in fourth spot, cementing their finals berth for the first time in four years - a sign of the grit and determination within the side. Perhaps this was the key factor in wallpapering over the inadequacies of their playing roster.
It's easy to regard the Warrior's pack, led by veterans Steve Price and Ruben Wiki, as one of the best in the competition. Price has unquestionably been the star, the club's inspirational leader plundered a mammoth 4515 meters - a feat for the history books.
The club may well be strong in other parts of the field as well - Witt has flourished at standoff, McKinnon is returning the ball with unbridled vigor, and Vatuvei has overcome his demons. Witt's goal kicking has - and will continue to be - outstanding, his 62 goals from 67 attempts represented a major contributer to the club's success.
The main reservations surrounding the Warrior's fortunes in 2008 must be at halfback and second row. To consummate their season with a Grand Final appearance teams need special players, and preferably in the right positions. Grant Rovelli at halfback has gone on to have another roller coaster season, while Logan Swann has disappointed in the second row. Michael Luck's superb run of form in 2007 saw him pull off a back-slapping 959 tackles for the season - 263 more than Swann's 696.
The Warriors now farewell a trio of players - George Gatis, Tony Martin, and winger Todd Byrne - conversely, they will also welcome into the fold Kangaroos centre Brent Tate and Bradford hooker Ian Henderson.
Both of the new arrivals have been heralded as 'smart buys' by the club but neither player will solve the dilemmas facing the Warriors in key positions. The club seems to have closed it's cheque book for the 2008 season so they will need to draw their solution from within the current roster. 2008 presents the opportunity to test the composition of our juniors, and to give them their chance to flourish in the game's greatest incubator.
I, for one, don't doubt the potential within the ranks of the Warrior's juniors. Sonny Fai in the second row has superstar written all over him, and 2008 should be the time for players like Kevin Locke and Isaac John to impress in the halves.