Time for Manu Vatuvei to go
Manu Vatuvei scores a try for the Warriors (AAP Image/Action Photographics/Renee McKay)
The two rugby codes have never been further apart. With this in mind, Brian McClennan must send Manu Vatuvei down to NSW Cup or over to the 15-a-side game.
Rewind to the Warriors’ entertaining struggle with the Storm in Auckland on Sunday. Melbourne led 16-12 in a match very much still to be decided.
The Warriors were bringing the ball out of their territory when Vatuvei received a pass in the middle of the field. Spotting some room to move on the left edge, he swerved to the outside of Storm winger Justin O’Neill and headed for what seemed to be open space.
The problem with his choice was that he’d already attempted this earlier in the contest, coughing up cheap possession against a team primed to capitalise on any mistake.
Justin O’Neill is one of the fastest players in the game; the first time round, he’d run the big man down easily and the Storm had regained possession.
Back to the play at hand. There’s six minutes left, the game is still to be decided and once again Manu looks up and sees 10 metres of open space in front of him.
Surely he knows that Melbourne are compressing deliberately. Surely he knows that they will slide and the faster man will push him out of play. Surely he understands that there’s plenty of time and more tackles left in the count.
Not a chance. He tries to beat O’Neill, quickly gets run down and pushed toward the sideline, forcing him to throw a desperate pass infield. Billy Slater gets his hands on the ball and seconds later Cameron Smith seals victory.
Anyone who follows the game knows that in rugby league, possession is paramount. Errors prove costly against quality opposition, unlike in rugby with its frequent changes of possession and contests for the ball.
The Warriors, in spite of a decent performance against the Storm, have not been able to shed their more rugby-centric style of play. They chance their arm with low percentage plays and lack remorse when they give the other team field position and opportunities to score.
Unfortunately, their defence also adheres to rugby standards: one-on-one misses and not enough commitment in pushing off their line for an entire game. They pushed the Storm hard on the weekend – imagine what may be possible were they able to reduce their error rate.
The first step is to relieve Manu Vatuvei of his duties. He’s had a good career but is now a liability. With Kevin Locke returning shortly, McClellan can move his young attacking weapon Glen Fisiiahi onto the wing, keeping him in first grade.
The tension between being expansive in attack and retaining discipline with the ball is always a delicate puzzle to solve for coaches and their teams. The great sides find the sweet spot on a consistent basis in the games that matter, usually with the most intelligent and expert coaches guiding them.
It’s no small feat. The last thing any team needs is players who aren’t willing to commit their minds to the cause.