5 Sep 2015

What happened to the Warriors?

7:24 am on 5 September 2015

OPINION: This was meant to be the year the Warriors ended their three-year-drought from the NRL playoffs, yet here we are talking about another season of what could have been.

The Warriors' faces say it all

The Warriors' faces say it all Photo: Photosport

The club's 20th anniversary year should have been memorable, but it's turned into a disaster in recent weeks with the age-old blame game beginning to creep in.

Six weeks ago, the Warriors looked to be shoe-ins for the top eight; in fact, they looked like they would be inside the top four. But, as though he almost predicted it, coach Andrew McFadden said fans and the media shouldn't get ahead of themselves.

How he proved to be so right.

If you wanted to look at the last time the Warriors recorded a win in the NRL, you have to look back to week 18 in the middle of July.

The 28-14 win came against the Melbourne Storm at Mt Smart Stadium.

While the score looked comfortable, it was anything but.

I remember being at that game. The Warriors had a comfortable 16-0 lead after half-time but, with just 20 minutes left in the match, the visitors had peeled the scoreline back to 20-14. Many in the press box thought it was going to be a repeat of the Warriors of 2014.

Luckily, the magic of Shaun Johnson got the better of Cameron Smith and he managed to seal the win with his beautiful side-step, but the warning sides were already there.

The following week the Warriors were thrashed 24-0 by the Roosters in Sydney. While quite the hiding, fans weren't hitting the panic button just yet, with McFadden putting it down to a poor day on defence.

It was around this time that the likes of Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei and Ryan Hoffman were all spending time on the sidelines with injuries and suspensions - and it was about to get a whole lot worse.

Warriors player Shaun Johnson is injured as he scores a try in the NRL Rugby League, Warriors v Sea Eagles at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand. 25 July 2015. Copyright Photo: Fiona Goodall / www.photosport.nz

Shaun Johnson is carried from the field. Photo: Photosport

In week 20, the Warriors came up against the Manly Sea Eagles in what many would say was the defining moment in the New Zealand club's season.

While none of the Warriors' camp like to admit it, Johnson's season-ending ankle injury was one of the biggest blows any team in the NRL could face.

I still, to an extent, agree with McFadden and Johnson that one player isn't better than the team, but in Johnson's case he is incredibly hard to replace.

The 2014 Golden Boot winner is one of the most electric players in the NRL; he is also the most frustrating for opposition teams thanks to that incredible footwork that no-one seems to be able to read.

When a player like Johnson goes down, it's easy for a club to lose hope, but you didn't see that from the Warriors.

McFadden came out and gave young playmaker Tuimoala Lolohea a chance to take over the helm and he did a respectable job, showing a lot of promise in the halves alongside Chad Townsend.

What let him and the rest of the side down was the poor defence from the left edge, which has been the biggest problem area for the Warriors this season.

It's been pointed out by numerous people within the media as well as coaching staff that the left edge is where the Warriors have continuously struggled, yet nothing seems to have changed.

Warriors boss Jim Doyle (L) with coach Andrew McFadden

Warriors boss Jim Doyle (left) with coach Andrew McFadden Photo: Photosport

In the last two matches, the Warriors have leaked 100 points while scoring 32 points of their own. It quite simply isn't good enough.

At the end of the season, bodies start tiring and depth within the pack becomes scarce, but that can't be excused when the same results and same mistakes begin to creep in year after year.

The big problem the Warriors face, when you look at the statistics from this year, is their error rate. They're second with 256 for the season; only the fourth-placed Gold Coast Titans have more with 267.

The Warriors are middle of the pack when it comes to missed tackles at 580, yet it's the timing of those missed tackles, and what follows, that cause the New Zealand side to cough up so many points.

Let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that McFadden or any one player in particular needs to be axed because of another poor season. If anything, McFadden needs more time with the side - and, from all accounts, Jim Doyle is going to give him that time.

McFadden has made it clear in the past he expects a high standard from his players. It must be frustrating for him that he hasn't been getting it.

Whether it's a lack of motivation or commitment, attitudes will need to change before results can start coming their way.

It's time

As the old saying goes, the best offence comes from a strong defence - and in the Warriors' case, that couldn't be closer to the truth. Now it's up to them to work on eliminating those costly errors.

The Sydney Roosters winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has pulled out of the Kiwis citing 'burnout.'

Sydney Roosters winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has pulled out of the Kiwis, citing burn-out. Photo: Photosport

With the inclusion of Roger Tuivasa Sheck and Isaac Luke in the squad next season, there are no more excuses for the Warriors.

As former Warriors and Kiwis coach Frank Endacott said, the Warriors have the best rugby league spine in the world in their backline next season.

With Johnson, Luke, and Tuivasa Sheck making up that spine, they will have the most exciting attack in the NRL. Now all they need is the defence to back it up.

While they are gaining a few new faces, they're also losing the likes of Sam Tomkins and Chad Townsend so that backline will need to gel quickly with the new combinations.

Fans have been waiting for 20 years. It's time they reaped the rewards of their loyalty.

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