Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
If there's a common question that might be asked in Warriorland right now it's this: Where will it all end? Where indeed?
There's the ultimate query about where will it end for the Warriors in the NRL premiership? All the way to the grand final perhaps? Even victory? Should anyone allow themselves to think like that now?
Or where will it all end for the Warriors in light of the Bulldogs' debacle?
The Dogs are in an unlovely mess and shouldn't be allowed to escape from it either. It's such a movable feast, though, that it pays to sidestep it here. In a matter of hours it could all change.
Whatever happens, it's already impacting on the Warriors and may affect them even more graphically yet.
In the truest sporting sense it's a shame this is happening at a time when they're fizzing. When they're rattling cages so vigorously in Australia knowing one club yet to be identified faces the trip to hell to face the Auckland-based side at Ericsson in the first weekend of the finals next month.
Along comes this fiasco with the Dogs and the Warriors' ride is engulfed by another huge controversy in a game that has an almost unmatched talent for lurching from crisis to crisis.
Big as the story is, it still hasn't managed to entirely stifle the air of well being that's descended on Auckland and large chunks of New Zealand through the Warriors' deeds.
Murray Deaker's Monday night slot on Newstalk ZB was all but a total rugby league zone. The All Blacks had just clinched the Tri-Nations title and rugby's Air New Zealand NPC was under way but there wasn't one rugby caller. The only variety came from two very brief mentions of boxer David Tua's victory over Michael Moorer. Otherwise, nothing but Warriors.
It's anything but unreasonable, of course.
That's because Stacey Jones and his players are a total entertainment package. You want exceptional skill, they provide it. You want brute power and grit, they provide it. And you want winning football, count on them for that almost every time as well.
What's happening now has been building, initially in fits and starts last year but with absolute certainty this year. The record eight-game winning streak a few weeks ago has proved to be just a teaser.
There have been some stutters recently against St George Illawarra, the Sharks and Canberra but the losses have been isolated setbacks this season. So far, the 2002 model hasn't lost two weeks on end.
And the Warriors have really ramped it right up in the last fortnight.
Breaking the Bulldogs' run was a fantastic feat, achieved through a sublime performance (even more so now the truth is emerging about the Dogs' modus operandi).
But even better was the way the Warriors busted the Broncos. They remain the kings of the game in this age and to bash them 18-4 on Sunday - and round off a stunning double for the season - was pure bliss.
Without reliving it blow by blow (including Kevin Campion's literal and inspirational blow by blow handiwork on Shane Webcke), there's an element of the Warriors' display that demands comment.
That's the way they've lined up and dealt to danger men in both the Bulldogs and Brisbane packs.
One week Willie Mason was given a really bad hair day as the Warriors pummelled him. While he's not used as an 80-minute footballer - not by a long way - Mason still averages 14 hit ups a game across the season.
But in the loss at Ericsson he basically turned it up after being smashed and could count only seven hit ups. Measuring up against him, Jerry Seuseu carted the ball up 14 times, and with loads more vigour and heart as well.
Move on a week and the men who had to be stopped or at least stalled were Brisbane's Gorden Tallis and Shane Webcke. Again it was no contest. Tallis was, on one count, restricted to only nine hit ups all night compared to his average of 13 a game while Webcke was down from his average of 15 to 10. Both men were reduced to tackling Warriors forwards far more often than they wanted (Webcke with 39 tackles and Tallis with 23).
That's how games like this - and in finals football - are won. Take the edge off their power men and then let someone like the remarkable Stacey Jones run the show (as he most assuredly has been doing).
Not that the NRL's website is according Jones the full recognition his displays richly deserve.
There's one statistical feature that Jones has been dominating all season - the category for try assists. Perhaps there's a little of the conspiracy theorist in this, but somehow Jones hasn't been receiving rewards he's due lately.
Going into the game against the Bulldogs, he'd been credited with 20 try assists and was leading the way from Andrew Johns.
In that game Jones provided the money ball in three of the Warriors' four tries, not the final pass but certainly the second to last one and the vital one in each case (producing tries to Francis Meli, Ivan Cleary and Wairangi Koopu). But the NRL site didn't award him one try assist.
On Sunday the master delivered tryscoring passes to Cleary and Meli as well as the perfect grubber kick for Cleary's second try yet he has been credited with only two assists.
Meanwhile, Johns has been allowed to move up to 22, level with Jones. It smells like a rort from the filthy Australians again as they look after one of their own.
But nothing can really dampen enhanced satisfaction levels right now.
Just stop to remember how far the Warriors have come and how much they've been forced to endure since the spectacular but flaky times in their debut 1995 season.
There was a philosophy back then that a day at the football needed to be a total entertainment experience, of which the action in the middle between warring factions was but an element.
There were mini rock concerts, pre-game entertainment extravaganzas and, of course, there was that cacophony generated by the Pacific Islanders and their array of percussion instruments.
Under this regime, the package has just one focal point - that's the game itself, although Mick Watson and his crew have revived the cheerleader ingredient, and that's not at all unpleasant.
It's definitely one hell of an experience at Ericsson Stadium these days. Thousands and thousands of Aucklanders can't say enough about it, especially the ones who have just re-emerged lately for a taste of what it's all about.
For the core fans, the atmosphere is nothing more or less than they expect now; with a team of heroes making the right moves in the middle, the diehard supporters have created an environment that excites them and not least the Warrior players, too.
While the full house signs were dusted off on Sunday, not everything was perfect in the pre-match build-up.
Somehow, someone had a subconscious flashback with the Brisbane team. When the line-up was flashed on the screen at the southern end there was a very strange person listed as wearing the No 9 jersey for the Broncos - Luke Priddis! Yes, he has been a Bronco before but he's been at Penrith for the past two seasons now! Bit of a gaffe there.
But from then on the only stumbles were provided by referee Tim Mander - never a favourite with the Warriors or the Ericsson faithful - and Brisbane players who were on the end of a bruising bashing.
May there be many more of them, Bulldogs or no Bulldogs. Courtesy of www.nzoom.com