READER REPORT:

New Warriors culture needed for 2016

MICHAEL MINTY
Last updated 14:09 07/09/2015
Tuimoala Lolohea celebrates scoring for Warriors
GETTY IMAGES

Tuimoala Lolohea celebrates scoring a try against the Canterbury Bulldogs, but the match was the Warriors' eighth NRL loss in a row.

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Unlike previous years, the Warriors arrived in the top eight earlier than usual and were in control of their own destiny. But looking back, the season came to a halt when Sea Eagles players landed on Shaun Johnson’s leg – breaking it and the hearts of the Warriors faithful.

That season-ending injury to Johnson effectively ended the Warriors season, but alarm bells were already ringing prior to that fateful night at Mt Smart.

A surprisingly poor home record of five wins and seven losses meant the Warriors were always going to struggle for finals footy going by their past away record.

They seemed to buck that trend – early in the season at least - snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against the Eels and Sharks within a week of each other.

But there were major concerns mid-way through the season, despite sitting pretty and with destiny in their own hands.

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Losses to the lowly Titans and an Origin-depleted Roosters outfit prior to making it into the top four at Mt Smart indicated this side was far from a finals contender.

By the end of round 19, the Warriors were sitting in fourth after a string of hard fought wins against teams who were struggling. But the return match against the Roosters in Sydney loomed.

The pessimists knew this was the game where they’d be shown up and, sure enough, they were completely outclassed across the park, 24-0.

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We learned a thing or two from this game – shut down the Warriors pack and you shut down Shaun Johnson, no matter how good his form his.

THE BEST: Round 18: Warriors 28 - Storm 14, Mt Smart Stadium

This game will be remembered as the day Nathan Friend became a household name and You Tube hit for his acrobatics and tunnel ball heroics (see video, above left), which lead to arguably one of the tries of the year.

This was one of those games the Warriors had to win and did. It came on the back of Origin 3, and taking advantage of weary legs from Melbourne Storm’s key men in Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Will Chambers was a must.

Johnson, who was displaying week in, week out consistency, was once again at his solo best stepping through Smith and scoring one of five Warriors tries, guiding the Warriors into fourth place on the ladder.

But this was as good as it got – round 18 was when the Warriors recorded their final win of the season.

THE WORST: Post Johnson injury

While the Warriors faithful kept the faith, it wasn’t long until the reality sunk in that the last six rounds were going to be ugly after Shaun Johnson’s season-ending injury.

Tui Lolohea showed plenty stepping into Johnson’s shoes, but players were chopped and changed due to injuries, suspensions and poor form, which ultimately culminated in the white flag being raised.

The horror show in Wellington against the Red V was the beginning of the end and signalled the start of four weeks of shellackings.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Shaun Johnson

Shaun Johnson was having a great season until suffering a break in the lower part of his left leg and partially dislocating his ankle in the match against Manly . PHOTO: PHOTOSPORT

Normally this award is reserved for captain Simon Mannering, but while he’s once again been in the top echelon of the side, in 2015 we started to see the best of Shaun Johnson on a consistent basis, once Andrew McFadden was able to settle on combinations.

Johnson responded to criticism for a slow start to the year, after expectations for the 2014 Golden Boot winner had reached fever pitch heading into the season.

Fantasy NRL players will agree the purple patch he struck through July was something never seen before, hitting 90+ fantasy points for weeks in a row. For novices, to hit 50 points is a good effort for someone in the halves.

If you’re looking for positives from the Warriors season, it will be remembered for Johnson’s dazzling solo efforts that will no doubt be part of next season’s TV promo.

ROOKIE WATCH

While the previous category was pretty thin, there was plenty to choose from here.

Tuimoala Lolohea was a standout – his Wikipedia now classes him as a fullback, wing, centre and half – positions he started in throughout the year.

His highlight reel will mostly come from those playmaking roles, however he might find himself in the centres next year where the Warriors are struggling for consistency.

Solomone Kata is good with the ball in hand but needs to work on his defence, says Michael.  PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Albert Vete looks destined to lead the next crop of up and coming props. He’s been brutal on the field and played with great maturity for his age. He really stepped up during the Warriors' downward spiral, taking it upon himself to help salvage something from a failed season.

A few more miles in the legs will see him play a key role in the prop rotation with the reduced interchange next year, alongside fellow rookie Sam Lisone who also started the year with a bang.

Solomone Kata played every single game and gave the Warriors some spark with ball in hand but he'll need to work on his defence and being caught out a number of times on the Warriors' left edge.

Meanwile, Ken Maumalo needs to remember he’s one of the biggest wingers in the NRL and use his power not just on starting sets but also on finding the try line.

Raymond Faitala-Mariner is another who looks more than capable of playing back-up to the more senior back row. He’s a strong ball runner and looks to have a decent motor on him.

COACH'S REPORT CARD

It’s been a tough year for Andrew McFadden and no doubt a rude awakening into the fickle life of an NRL coach.

Not only has he had to juggle the usual injuries – more so at the back of the year - but he's also been trying to break up the bad habits and attitudes that have come to light recently.

As the list of unavailable players grew to breaking point, McFadden had no choice but to name players who, in his words, "weren’t up to first grade standard".

Not even Craig Bellamy could have made this mob perform any better in the last six weeks, although some might argue they’d be a hell of a lot fitter, but we won’t flog that dead horse.

McFadden, along with CEO Jim Doyle, has installed a new level of professionalism not seen at the club in a while. While some players have struggled to adhere to this going by the list of ‘dead wood’ being let go, hopefully the club will have all players buying into a new culture in 2016.

Next year will be McFadden’s make-or-break year. There’s no doubt a couple of star signings will help, however his coaching ability will be questioned again if this side can’t make finals.

He needs a plan B should key players fall to injury.

FULLY FIT 17 FOR 2016: 

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 7. Thomas Leuluai 13. Simon Mannering
2. David Fusitua 8. Jacob Lillyman 14. Ligi Sao
3. Tuimoala Lolohea 9. Isaac Luke 15. Albert Vete
4. Ben Henry 10. Ben Matulino 16. Charlie Gubb
5. Manu Vatuvei 11. Bodene Thompson 17. Sam Lisone
6. Shaun Johnson 12. Ryan Hoffman  


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