Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
2 days ago
On Saturday night, the Vodafone Warriors slipped to new depths to lose the unlosable, which strangely, with the mindset of the Warriors over the past couple of seasons, also loomed as the inevitable in a harsh twist of d?j? vu.
The most worrying aspect of the loss was the fact they were outscored 3 tries to 2, by a team who concentrated purely on one off the ruck stuff, intermitted with darts out of dummy half, with each set being ended up an aimless, rudderless bomb. It was the sort of backyard golden oldies attack that shouldn't threaten an under 8's team, let alone a first grade team. While statistically people could look back in five years time and argue the defence was tight, in actual fact it was the perfect tonic for insomniacs in terms of the creativity and structure of both team's attacking structure.
Worse still, in the nation's capital, again they showed their lack of intelligence in terms of closing a game out. In the last six or seven minutes, with the Warriors leading, they could not get a decent kick in. Most times, they had coughed the ball up before that. In retrospect, kicking it out from here on in and resetting from 20-30 metres out more than likely would have given the Warriors the win. The Raiders looked devoid of ideas as to how to create a long range try. However, turning the ball over at half way, and allowing 5 10 metre bursts put them in a position to puncture a tiring defensive line. A crucial play in all of this was halfback Nathan Fien turning the ball over in a one on one position after a break, looking for a 50/50 offload when the Warriors were crying out for an effective kick to limit the Raiders offence. In a brain explosion, Fien forgot the situation, turned the ball over, and as they say, the rest is history.
In 2001 and 2002, and to a lesser degree in 2003, the Warriors earnt a reputation of being a breathe of fresh air under coach Daniel Anderson. Tries could be winged in from 10 metres, 40 metres, 80 metres. Distance was never an issue. Nowadays, the Warriors look unlikely to score from 4 metres out with a 6 man overlap.
Also, alarmingly, the club that had vowed to build on an emotional grand final performance in 2002 seemingly have little to no idea as to how to close out a tight game. Last season, the Warriors finished outside the top 8, yet never copped a hiding. Every other team copped a 20 plus point touch up, the Warriors did not. But, they lost an alarming amount of tight games, as illustrated below.
Round 1: Manly 26, Warriors 20, Ericsson Stadium
Round 8: Penrith 16, Warriors 14, Ericsson Stadium
Round 9: Cronulla 28, Warriors, 24, Members Equity Stadium, Perth
Round 10: Roosters 10, Warriors 6, Ericsson Stadium
Round 17: North Queensland 24, Warriors 16, Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville
Round 18: Bulldogs 26, Warriors, 24, Ericsson Stadium
Round 21: Penrith 42, Warriors, 34, Penrith Stadium
In all but one of those losses, the Warriors failed to reach 30 points. A benchmark for the halcion days of the 2001-2003 era.
What has contributed to the Warriors loss in attacking prowess? Against all manner of belligerent and generalised 'expert' comment, it has come simply from a lack of attack. As strange as that sounds, the Warriors have gone into their shell. In years gone by, the Warriors could live off a 60% completion rate and beat top ranked sides by 10 plus points.
Nowadays, despite the generalisations, the Warriors seem to be completing a lot of bland sets of six. They rely heavily on Steven Price and Ruben Wiki to power it forward up front. Yet when those two masters of the hard yards provide space and time, the Warriors fail to use it.
Furthermore, the Warriors still rely heavily on the 50/50 offloads. In between 4 or 5 nothing sets of powering it up the guts, the Warriors panic and try to throw a hot potato pass in an offload situation. However, they often forget the basic rule, "Only pass to a man in a better position." Be effective with it, not reckless with it. It was something Daniel Anderson tried to impress upon the team, get your techniques right. Offload when you are in a more stable upright position, rather than when you are being dominated. Check who is supporting you, before offloading. Communicate to one another if it is on. He realised it was nigh on impossible to take the flamboyance out of their game, but contrary to popular 'expert' belief, it could be highly effective and provide entertaining, and successful football.
However, since 2002 teams have becoming more and more aware of the situation, and when the Warriors spread it wide teams defensively are leaving a 'floater' up hanging off the tackle situation, in case they can gather a cheap turnover from a misdirected offload. As such, with the Warriors heavy reliance on the offload, their attack is somewhat stilted as a result of this.
In 2003, the Warriors attempted to compensate for this by bringing into play the cross field bomb from Stacey Jones, to Henry Fa'afili and Francis Meli. It was highly successful, but a short term solution to the problem, as like the offloading, teams could smarten up to it and make sure centres covered their wingers to give them a better opportunity in defusing the bomb.
In 2004, Daniel Anderson attempted to beat the game again by bulking the Warriors up, thinking that a bigger, stronger pack could power over their opposition and put their outside men in a position where the offload was virtually unstoppable. However, the end net result was a team of players who were hopelessly slow on the field, tired quickly, perspired easier which led to slippery hands and more dropped pill. Also, with heavier legs one key element of any sport was overlooked ? footwork. On defence, laterally they were susceptible, and on offence they often snatched at passes when in full fitness they would have been in a good position to take the ball.
Taking out the offload, and the bomb as high percentage attacking weapons for the Warriors has destroyed their offence systematically. Since 2004, both Tony Kemp and Ivan Cleary have built a team very strong up the centre third of the park. They have relied heavily on good go forward, and tight defence in the centre, but neglected the edge thirds in attack.
The Warriors need to take a strong look at the likes of the Roosters, Panthers, Knights, Cowboys at their peak. Not only did they get good quick go forward, they all had extremely quick play of the balls. The hooker was able to get out for a quick scamper, and either hit another forward hitting it hard, or hitting the halfback at the line with a deep set backline and players in motion. With players in motion, they were able to set up decisive set piece plays, basic, yet effective involving second man plays and were able to hit their men out wide who with good footwork against a fractured defence were able to take charge of the situation. One other basic thing all successful sides do; their forwards make sure when they go to the ground they are on their stomachs, not their backs, making it half a second quicker to get to their feet to play the ball resulting in a set attack against a disorganised defence.
Similarly, it was this type of basic, yet expansive game plan that Brian "Bluey" McClennan implemented for the Kiwis. He realised that the New Zealand players, like all players, loved to play ball. It is somewhat of a wild generalisation that New Zealanders are overly excitable with ball in hand, its human nature that we all love to make line breaks and score tries. That?s the name of the game. So he put in place a structure that allowed this. Good go forward, quick rucks, and a deep, wide spread against a disorganised defence. It allowed Clinton Toopi, Brent Webb and Nigel Vagana room to move, to use their footwork, to beat their opponents inside and out and give their wingers unstoppable opportunities. Toopi and Webb are both still at the Warriors, they are still the same players who are highly successful at the Kiwis, they still require the same opportunities and can still deliver the same results. But not with a flat backline, not with limited ball, not without disorganised defences.
Furthermore, better capitalisation on Steve Price's ball skills could work a treat. Currently, sitting in Bartercard are speed merchants Cooper Vuna, Miguel Start and Marvin Filipo. Much the same way as Canberra attempt to use Marshall Chalk, it would be wise to have those men trailing Price and friends up the centre of the ruck. Put them on the wing, with a license. Price was particularly effective at the Bulldogs with his short passes before the line to fellow forwards, the defender would have to shift late off Price onto his team-mate, usually getting a poor hit on the attacker, allowing either safety in offloading - with Vuna and friends trailing could cause problems, the ability to fall to the stomach for a quick play of the ball, or a broken tackle altogether. Simple, yet effective. And from there, it will keep defences guessing on Price, allowing him more latitude in moving forward.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Warriors are the most frustrating team to watch in the NRL. Their offence is bland, their street smarts in closing out close games are poor. More often than not they don't have the offence, the game breaking play to put their opponents away. For the most part, they play a solid brand of football that keeps them in most games and keeps the scoreline respectable, but they do not have structure right to take advantage of it.
Once were Warriors, once again finding ways to lose the unlosable.