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Season review: Warriors

Taylor Auerbach, NRL.com Fri, Oct 05, 2012 - 10:00 AM

Despite the Warriors making the third-fewest offloads in the NRL (9.4 per game), they nevertheless boasted the competition’s most prolific offloader in Feleti Mateo (61). Copyright: NRL Photos

Wins: 8
Losses: 16
Position: 14th
Home Record: 5 wins, 7 losses (=11th)
Away Record: 3 wins, 9 losses (14th)
 
Longest Winning Streak: 2 (Rounds 9-10; 17-18)
Longest Losing Streak: 8 (Rounds 19 - 26)
Players Used: 29
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 89 (=6th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 109 (14th)
 
Watching the woeful Warriors go about their business this year was made all the more bizarre by the memory of their 2011 grand final appearance. That this underperforming team – who couldn’t tackle, couldn’t offload, couldn’t kick and mostly ran ineffectively – was within 80 minutes of a premiership just 12 months ago says as much about the irony of sport as it does about ruthlessness of the NRL.

The core of the side that strutted out onto the Homebush turf last October was still there. But in 24 games of rugby league in 2012, the Warriors looked about as much chance of winning the NRL Telstra Premiership as the Sydney Swans.

They began, inconspicuously enough, with two wins and two losses. Over that month they were knocked off by defending premiers Manly and eventual grand finalists Canterbury. Their wins came against the Eels and the Titans.
But then the wheels really came off.

In a harrowing period that saw the Warriors travel to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne over the space of four weeks, they managed just one win. The three losses came by an average margin of 18.67 – and suddenly the black and greys were three from eight.

Over the first eight rounds of the competition, the Warriors had made the second-fewest metres (1222.5 per game), the second-most errors (12.9 per game) and had scored the second-fewest points (24.5 per game). It was a disastrous start to a disastrous season that would see the Warriors ultimately sack their much-touted coach of one year, Brian McClennan.

Their season is best summed up by a dismal month of football between Rounds 20 and 23. The Warriors surrendered 19- and 18-nil leads in succession and lost (a first in the history of the game), before leaking 97 points in their next two defeats. In the process they lost all semblance of a quality rugby league team.

The Warriors’ players and coaching staff would rather forget this year than review it, their worst season performance since 2004. Rare bright moments came through victories over top-eight sides South Sydney, Brisbane and North Queensland.

However for the most part they were definitely the ‘once were Warriors’.

Where They Excelled…  Finding positives in the Warriors’ 2012 season is a bit like trying to find colour in their jersey. But quite clearly, the thing they were least bad at was scoring points. The only two categories in which the Warriors were ranked in the top eight for was tries and points scored. They scored 89 tries in 2012 (equal sixth in the NRL) off the back of strong attacking performances by Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei and Shaun Johnson, who each scored 12 tries. 

Despite the Warriors making the third-fewest offloads in the NRL (9.4 per game), they nevertheless boasted the competition’s most prolific offloader in Feleti Mateo (61).

Where They Struggled… Pretty much everywhere! Poor defence and no metres made the Warriors a dull side. They missed more tackles than any other team in the NRL (38 per game), conceded the third-most points (25.4) and made the third-fewest metres (1290). They also need drastic improvement in their discipline; they were ranked 10th in the NRL with 10.8 errors per game. James Maloney’s 125 missed tackles were the most of any player behind Chris Sandow, who missed 127. 

As a general rule, the Warriors will be heading in the right direction next year if they do everything opposite to this year. 

Missing In Action… The Warriors used 29 players throughout 2012, the second-highest attrition rate in the NRL – partly due to injury and partly due to form. Micheal Luck didn’t live up to his name, with a shoulder injury in the trials sidelining him until Round 15. He would be plagued by injury throughout the season and managed only six games. The player unit also lost Jacob Lillyman before the season proper and didn’t get him back until Round 9. A dislocated knee to centre Jerome Ropati in Round 10 would sideline the Auckland junior for the rest of the season, while Manu Vatuvei missed seven weeks with a similar knee injury. 

Turning Point… The Warriors were less than mediocre for most of the season, but it didn’t turn disastrous until Round 19 when the Warriors lost a tight 10-8 tussle with the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. The Warriors wouldn’t win a game for the rest of 2012, despite steaming to huge leads in the first halves of their two following games. The loss knocked the Warriors out of the top eight for the last time and was made all the more painful by the fact they outscored the Broncos two tries to one. 

Best Games…  A 26-6 thumping of the Titans in Round 4 was amongst the Warriors’ best. Halfback Shaun Johnson sizzled in the five-tries-to-one victory, scoring two himself as well as setting one up and making five tackle-breaks and two line-breaks. A big win against eventual semi-finalists North Queensland in Round 17 was also a highlight, with James Maloney starring (11 points, 19 tackles) in a 35-18 victory at Mt Smart Stadium. The Warriors’ win the following week over the Titans would be the last of their season. 

Worst Games… Their two worst games were utterly abysmal and happened over the space of six days. In Round 22 they hosted Cronulla and turned in a wholly pitiful performance, Todd Carney scoring 25 solo points in the 45-4 humiliation. The Warriors missed 48 tackles in front of their frustrated home fans. The following weekend they travelled to Townsville where things got even worse, letting in nine tries to eventually go down 52-12. The Warriors made only 1172 metres that evening, and 15 errors. 

Hold Your Head High… New recruit hooker Nathan Friend tried his heart out, making an average of 41.9 tackles per game and only six errors all season. Shaun Johnson was fantastic in attack – scoring 12 tries, setting up a further 17 and bagging seven line-break assists. In terms of power up front, prop Ben Matulino made more metres than any other Warrior and averaged 126.5 per game, while winger and sometime-captain Manu Vatuvei was solid with 113.9 metres per game, 12 tries and 11 line-breaks. 

Interim Coach Tony Iro says: “Like most of the other clubs who didn’t play in the finals, we had a lot of injuries, especially to our senior blokes. 

“At the end of the year (2011) we let go of a few of our experienced blokes who would have been really helpful, blokes like Aaron Heremaia, Joel Moon… even Brett Seymour contributed a lot to the side last year.

“At the end of the day, we just couldn’t hold on to healthy leads and I think that was down to the inexperience of the side. 

“It’s going to be a pretty similar roster next year. The three players that have joined us so far (Thomas Leuluai, Todd Lowrie and Dane Nielsen)… I’m positive they’re going to have a really good influence on the squad. 

“It’s a side that has experienced the highs and lows of the past two seasons. They’ve just had the advantage of a further 24 games of NRL football which will put them in good stead.”

Conclusion… In bleak contrast to the excitement of 2011, the Warriors rarely set the hearts of their supporters fluttering. Their young and often casualty stricken squad failed to fire in all areas, which is probably why the coaching staff are not too concerned about the future. Still, their defence was leaky, their attack struggled for consistency and their overall structure and application just didn’t cut it at the top level. It’s times like these that players and management reach for the consolation cry:  “The only way is up!” 

*Statistics - NRL Stats