Contenders to pretenders: The Warriors, Panthers, and Raiders assessed

Tim Gore Columnist

61 Have your say

    Last weekend marked the first big milestone of the NRL season. By the end of Round 10, it is a 65 per cent chance that the season’s eventual premier is already in the top four.

    The stats from all seasons after 1998 further tells us that 85 per cent of the time they are already in the top eight.

    By this stage last year, seven of the final top eight were already in the eight. Only the Titans forced their way in afterwards.

    So the chances are high that the premier will be either the Storm, Sharks, Roosters or Broncos.

    Conversely, there are a few sides that were talked about as potential premiers in February that statistically now have bugger all chance just two and a half months into the season.

    Following their great finishes to the 2016 season, the Raiders and Panthers were touted as red hot chances to lift the silverware on the first weekend in October. Both are now very much rated as outsiders.

    There was also a fair bit of talk that Kieran Foran joining the Warriors – along with Stephen Kearney taking the helm – would see them finally achieve their massive potential.

    They haven’t. They are as disappointing and inconsistent as ever.

    So what has gone wrong? And is the dream really over for each of these clubs in 2017?

    Let’s take a look.

    Kieran Foran New Zealand Warriors NRL Rugby League 2017

    (Image: AAP/David Rowland)

    The New Zealand Warriors

    Current record:
    Four wins – Knights (h), Titans (h), Eels (h), Roosters (h)
    Six losses – Storm (h), Bulldogs (a), Dragons (a), Raiders (a), Storm (a), Penrith (a)

    The Warriors have lost all five of their away games, including blowing a 22 point lead against the Panthers.

    Margins:
    13+ losses: two (Storm, Dragons)
    1-12 losses: four (Bulldogs, Raiders, Panthers, Storm)
    1-12 wins: Four
    13+ wins: Zero

    I’m sorry, but a side boasting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, David Fusitua, Shaun Johnson, Solomone Kata and Kieran Foran should be putting sides to the sword, at least sometimes. The Warriors biggest win was against the Eels by 12.

    Good stats:
    Metres gained: 1419 (+25 NRL AVG)
    Errors: 9.3 (Best NRL – AVG 10.6)

    Bad Stats:
    Tries scored: 2.8 a game (NRL AVG 3.3)
    Tackle breaks: 23.1 per game (worst NRL – NRL AVG 29.75)

    What is strange about the Warriors stats generally is that they are virtually bang on average for every other statistical category.

    As to those four stats, their go forward is decent without being stellar, and their error rate is the best in the competition.

    However, their tries scored per game rate is dismal. Only the Knights and Wests Tigers are worse. Further, their tackle breaks per game are the worst in the NRL.

    What has gone wrong?
    For all the fanfare of Kieran Foran supposedly helping Shaun Johnson explode into the player we all hope he can be, the Warriors – once known for their free scoring but leaky defence and soft underbelly – now have a problem with scoring enough points.

    Johnson certainly isn’t cutting loose, Tuivasa-Sheck is not asserting himself on games, Tuimoala Lolohea is badly out of favour, Foran is taking off at seasons end and Simon Mannering, Jacob Lillyman and Ryan Hoffman – while playing great footy – ain’t getting any younger and can’t do it all by themselves.

    Equation to make the finals:
    To accumulate the 28 points that usually scrapes a side in for a finals berth, the Warriors will have to win eight of their remaining 14 games. Seven of those are at home. There is a distinct possibility this can happen.

    The 36 points needed to ensure a top four berth will require the Warriors to win twelve of their last fourteen.

    Prediction
    They won’t make the four. However, if the Warriors can hit some form they might just make the finals. That will depend upon some tough love, discipline and work ethic – of the sort that the great Kevin Campion instilled in the side in the early 2000s – materialising at the club very quickly.

    Is the dream over in 2017?
    Yes. Yes it is. The Warriors are no better than a five per cent chance to lift the trophy in 2017.

    Christopher Grevsmuhl NRL Rugby League Penrith Panthers 2016

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    The Penrith Panthers

    Current record:
    Three wins – Wests Tigers (a), Knights (h), Warriors (h)
    Seven losses – Dragons (a), Roosters (h), Storm (a), Rabbitohs (h), Sharks (h), Eels (a), Broncos (a)

    The Panthers have only won three games but two of those were by 30-plus margins. However, all three wins have been against sides in the bottom five.

    Margins:
    13+ losses: four (Broncos, Storm, Sharks, Dragons)
    1-12 losses: three (Eels, Rabbitohs, Roosters)
    1-12 wins: One (Warriors)
    13+ wins: Two (Knights, Wests Tigers)

    The four sides that have cleaned them up are in the top five, suggesting that the Panthers side that was so competitive last year has seriously dropped away.

    Good stats:
    Line Breaks: #3 in the NRL
    Tackle Breaks: 33.3 a game (NRL AVG 29.75)

    Bad Stats:
    Missed Tackles: 32.3 per game (NRL AVG 29.7)
    Errors: 12 per game (worst NRL – NRL AVG 10.6)

    The problem for the Panthers is that these good stats have been drastically pumped up by the floggings of the Knights and Wests Tigers. Their attack isn’t penetrating the good sides’ defences. Further, their defence is pretty bad and they’ve got to stop shooting themselves in the foot with their high error rate.

    What has gone wrong?
    Firstly, it is very rare that the absence of a winger can make a huge difference, but make no mistake that Josh Mansour’s kick returning, determined ball running, and line breaking, are sorely missed.

    How many times in 2016 did the bearded one put the Panthers on the front foot? Plenty.

    He was their leading metre gainer, line breaker and try scorer in 2016 and they miss him badly.

    Wunderkind Nathan Cleary is having a tough second season in the top grade. However, the kid is the goods. If he is this good now he’ll be a superstar by 25.

    From an outsider’s perspective, something seems rotten in the state of Penrith. For the club captain to get dropped for stepping out of line is a very big deal.

    While Trent Merrin is a bit down on his 2016 form, Matt Moylan is well down on his. Further, Bryce Cartwright may be playing injured because he is certainly underwhelming in 2017.

    Last year Cartwright, Moylan, Tamou and Merrin were all serious contenders for State of Origin. This year I’ll be very surprised if any are even being considered.

    Equation to make the finals:
    To manage to tally 28 points, the Panthers will have to win nine of their remaining 14 games. Only seven of those are at home. That means they can only lose five more games if they are to scrape into the eight.

    However, don’t give up yet Panthers supporters.

    Although some good form is required quick smart, of the sides currently in the top five, the Panthers only play one of them (the Dragons) in their last fourteen games. The away games are winnable. It is possible.

    Making the top four, however, is not. It requires only dropping one more game out of 14.

    Prediction
    No way will they make the four. But they may make the finals. Their run home is pretty friendly and their comeback from 22 points down against the Warriors showed that they have some fight in them yet.


    Is the dream over in 2017?

    Sure is. There will be no premiership in 2017 for the mountain men.

    Aidan Sezer Canberra Raiders NRL Rugby League 2016

    (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    The Canberra Raiders

    Current record:
    Four wins – Wests Tigers (h), Eels (h), Titans (a), Wariors (h)
    Six losses – Cowboys (a), Sharks (h), Broncos (a), Sea Eagles (h), Bulldogs (a), Knights (a)

    In 2017 the Raiders have not beaten a side that is currently in the top eight. Their pumped up ladder position is due to their demolitions of the badly depleted Titans and Wests Tigers.

    Margins:
    13+ losses: Two (Sharks, Knights)
    1-12 losses: four (Cowboys, Broncos, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs)
    1-12 wins: Two (Warriors, Eels)
    13+ wins: Two (Titans, Wests Tigers)

    The Raiders have fallen into their 2015 trap of losing close games. All four of their 1-12 losses they could have won, but they didn’t. Coulda, shoulda, woulda…

    Good stats:
    Tackle Breaks: 36.9 a game (NRL AVG 29.75)

    Bad Stats:
    Nothing really bad. Just a lot of beige. Beige doesn’t win competitions.

    The Raiders put sides to the sword in 2016. Their defence was top notch and their attack deadly and adventurous. The passes stuck.

    This season they may be sitting on average errors but it is where and how they are making them. They are pushing too many passes and handing over lots of ball in their red zone. While their defence has only been badly compromised in Round 2 against the Sharks, the Raiders aren’t scoring freely and sides are beating them in arm wrestles.

    What has gone wrong?
    There are a few factors.

    Firstly, Coach Ricky Stuart is right: sides have worked them out and now have strategies to counter and frustrate the Raiders game plan.

    Secondly, their depth isn’t what it was in 2016. Nor could it be. Raiders management had to make tough salary cap decisions about who they kept and who they let go. Last season when Josh Papalii or Shannon Boyd were out, Stuart could call on Paul Vaughn and Shaun Fensom. This year he must call on honest toilers Clay Priest and Dunamis Lui instead.

    Last year he had Sam Williams and Kurt Baptiste in the squad who could come in and do a job when needed. Baptiste has only just come back from an Achilles injury and Williams is in England.

    Further, after a few years of winning with left field purchases, the signings of Jordan Turner and Dave Taylor have yet to bear the fruit that is hoped for.

    At the beginning of the season Josh Papalii, Blake Austin, Jarrod Croker, Jack Wighton, Shannon Boyd, Junior Paulo and Joey Leilua were all in contention for Origin jerseys. After the Raiders start to 2016, I expect only Josh Papalii will get the call-up.

    As much as it will pain a side that has so enjoyed playing a free-spirited style of entertaining football, they must roll up their sleeves and play some low error grind football to get their season back on track.

    Equation to make the finals:
    For the magical 28 points number, the Raiders will have to win eight of their remaining 14 games. While lots of their tough remaining matchups are at home, they have to travel to Cronulla and Melbourne. To be certain of a top four spot they can only lose two more games.

    Prediction
    The Raiders squad is too good to miss the finals but they are making it hard for themselves. However, they’ll need some extremely good fortune to make the four. And as we know, no side in the NRL era has won the Premiership from outside the top four.

    Is the dream over in 2017?
    As much as it pains me to say it, most probably, yes. Yet I still hope…

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.

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    The Crowd Says (61)

    • May 18th 2017 @ 3:36am
      jeff dustby said | May 18th 2017 @ 3:36am | ! Report

      i think the top 4 bar might be a bit lower this year than 36 points

    • May 18th 2017 @ 6:58am
      Stu said | May 18th 2017 @ 6:58am | ! Report

      Unfortunatly my beloved warriors have the weakest pack in the comp. Other than Mannering and Matulino its young players with potential or veterans who are well passed their best.

      Tohu Harris will help for next season but 2 big props are required.

      • Columnist

        May 18th 2017 @ 8:48am
        Tim Gore said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        Mannering, lillyman and Hoffman have been pretty good I reckon. The issue is a massively underperforming backline.

        • May 18th 2017 @ 9:15am
          Cedric said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

          yes, but your backs usually go a bit better when you get go forward. I said a few years back we need Boyd and Vaughan with Matalino.
          All in all the Warriors, after 40 mins, had the Raiders, Panthers & Storm done……yeah 80 mins counts. There was some serious home stuff going on at Canberra and Penrith, forward passes gallour. Mind you everyone saw so much of that last week in quite a few games.
          The Warriors are half way there, I believe, maybe they can turn up for the last 80mins. They really struggled to go forward after half time at Penrith, infact they got smashed!

        • May 18th 2017 @ 9:31am
          Stu said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

          The backs have performed well when the forwards have some sort of parity. The forwards are getting dominated far too often.

          I’d love to see Lillymans meters after contact and speed of play the ball. It’s absolutely terrible. Hoffman runs some good lines but defensively is guilty of poor reads far too often.

          Johnson is 4th in try assists and 2nd in line break assists among halfbacks. Foran has a similar average.
          Tuivasa Sheck is 3rd in the NRL for average run meters and 9th in tackle breaks. Everything positive has come from these 3 players, the rest of the team need to raise their game.

        • May 18th 2017 @ 9:37am
          Stu said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

          Hoffman, Thompson and Lillyman are 2nd, 3rd and 5th with missed tackles this year. Hoffman missed 6 alone against the Panthers.

          SJ has the most but he get almost all the traffic and as a result has made the 7th most tackles this year.

          • May 18th 2017 @ 1:42pm
            Cedric said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

            interesting stats, I’d guess Mannering would miss the least, he’s one of the best one on one tacklers in the NRL. Watched Mamalo try to tackle leilua with his fingers twice, Klodstad should be his replacement.

            • May 18th 2017 @ 1:49pm
              Stu said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

              Mannering and Afoa are the best as a % of completed tackles.

              • May 18th 2017 @ 2:01pm
                Albo said | May 18th 2017 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

                Yep ! I don’t understand why Afoa isn’t in the team ? And the few games he has played he has been used as block runner rarely given the ball ? He can be a devastating runner on the edges and is a very good defender, can play near 80 minutes, but seems to have been overlooked mostly this year ? I guess they have nominated Mannering and Hoffman as their 80 minute men, and like Bodene Thompson on the edge, but whilst they are solid, they hardly put any scares into opposing defences.

        • May 18th 2017 @ 8:12pm
          Aem said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:12pm | ! Report

          Mannering isn’t a dominant guy on both sides of the ball when playing in the middle (it’s not his best position…), Lillyman has being doing plenty of work but has also been prolific with slower play the balls and Hoffman has been good outside of a couple of shocker games.

          Bodene Thompson is an opposition try (or three, as we last weekend) waiting to happen. Good for an unforced early set mistake, too.

          Gavet is the best forward they have right now by miles… just not getting enough minutes (it may be that he’s not up to more minutes at his current pace… but that’s what the team needs).

          Lisone has been improved from last year (read: doesn’t give away 2-3 errors or penalties per game), but not particularly consistent – the one thing you really want from a metre man. Sao has been mostly good, but like Hoffman has thrown in a couple of shockers too. Matulino just coming back from problems with both knees.. should get better.

          All up, the pack is the biggest problem – they’re getting belted in the grind… unfortunately, that’s how Kearney has clearly set them out to play. It’s a game plan that doesn’t particularly fit his squad – honestly he needs Vatuvei fit (he’s like Maumalo going forward but an actual winger, not a prop hiding on the wing), and to bring in his reserve middles who are much more suited to his game plan (both Sipleys and Daniel Palavi look likely).

          Of course, I expect he won’t do either. Will make minimal changes for the year, possibly scrape out a top 8 spot (probably not though). And the frustration goes on!

          Oh, and as for the backs… CNK was overdue, but now he’s in that’s a wing sorted. Fusitua & Ayshford have performed well (I know, Ayshford isn’t liked… but he’s done generally well for the Warriors)… that last spot is Manu’s, if he can get fit to claim it. Maumalo is a liability, and Kata looks to have regressed..,.

      • May 18th 2017 @ 4:15pm
        Alex L said | May 18th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

        It’s not the forward pack, it’s that the back 3 are gifting three attacking sets to the opposition every game by dropping it coming out of yardage. The Broncos pack is as weak if not weaker, but they don’t drop the ball every third or fourth set.

    • May 18th 2017 @ 8:08am
      KingCowboy said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      People were ready to declare Ricky Stuart as coach of the year but I can’t see the Raiders ever winning a title with him as coach. Still think Panthers are going to come good and I have no idea what the kiwis are going to do.

      • Columnist

        May 18th 2017 @ 8:44am
        Tim Gore said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

        You don’t like Ricky much KC, do you…

        • May 18th 2017 @ 8:54am
          KingCowboy said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

          Not that I have ever meet the guy but I hear he does a lot for charity and he seems to be a good guy. I just don’t think he has what it takes to coach a current team to an NRL P’Ship.

          I actually don’t rate Barrett as a good coach either but he the Eagles going alone real well at the moment.

          • May 18th 2017 @ 11:37am
            Armchair expert said | May 18th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

            This hatred people have for Stuart makes me laugh.
            You straight out went for the jugular, oh and by the way he is the current Dally M coach of the year!!!
            He took his team to within one game of the GF from near wooden spooners 2 years prior.
            Do you think people would be rating Paul Green as a coach if Thurston wasn’t a cowboy?
            Was Barret a poor coach last year but suddenly had a lightning strike and became a good coach?
            Same for Mary McGregor and Madge. Teams go through form slumps and winning streaks,
            There is very little between the top teams and the lower teams, coaches need to evolve and innovate but the players are the only ones that can win or lose games.

            • May 18th 2017 @ 1:31pm
              KingCowboy said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

              I don’t hate Ricky Stuart, I just don’t think he is a very good NRL coach. I think his record shows that but please feel free to disagree. It would be a very boring world if everyone agreed on everything.

            • Roar Rookie

              May 18th 2017 @ 2:05pm
              Conan of Cooma said | May 18th 2017 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

              Haha, Dally M coach that got them that far? Flanno took the Sharks from 2014 wooden spoon to 2016 premiers.

              And look at what Sticky did at the Sharks! 2007 – 11th, 2008 – 3rd, 2009 – 15th, 2010 – HE QUIT!

              A similar pattern is forming in Canberra. 2014 – 15th, 2015 – 10th, 2016 – 2nd, 2017 – ?

      • May 18th 2017 @ 1:46pm
        Jacko said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

        Which kiwi’s KingCowboy? The ones in your team? or the ones in the Raiders or the ones in the Panthers? Or did you mean the Warriors, where not all players are Kiwi’s? I hate that people call the Warriors either NZ or the “Kiwi’s” as neither is correct

        • May 18th 2017 @ 3:00pm
          KingCowboy said | May 18th 2017 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

          I am not like John Oliver, I have no beef with you “kiwis”, so I am not going to get into this with you!

      • Roar Guru

        May 18th 2017 @ 9:46pm
        Magnus M. Østergaard said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

        Ricky is just Graham Henry. Good coach, just not ggoooooooood enuff

    • May 18th 2017 @ 8:09am
      Oingo Boingo said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      Yep , all the huff n puff that was going on about these three at the beginning of the season has whimpered out to an article about hope , desperation and the potential of luck to influence the outcome of their seasons .
      The warriors will capitulate on the back of KF ( possibly known as KFC nowadays by most warriors fans ) finding a new girlfriend ,after telling the current one he loved her just a few weeks ago.
      The raiders are done, dusted and as only Ricky can do with a team “shot to bits”.
      The panthers need to be put on a facebook and newspaper ban , and Gus will have to ring the cabinet makers and cancel the order for the lovely big Teak and Glass cabinet with gold leaf and mother of pearl inlays .
      Oh well here’s to 2018 .

      • May 18th 2017 @ 9:01am
        TigerMike said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        Haha!
        Oingo love your comments
        What then do you see fit the Wests Tiges rest of 17¿

        • May 18th 2017 @ 10:52am
          Oingo Boingo said | May 18th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

          TigerMike , I do feel for Tigers fans mate , as I regard them as my second team.
          It reminds me of a report we’ve all seen on one of the mainstream current affairs shows about, The loving old lady ( Tigers faithful) somewhere in the suburbs who has a house full of wormy fleabag cats that piiiss and shiitt all through the house, and even though they do so , she continues to love and feed them because she has nothing else in her life.
          I’ll be interested in seeing pictures of Ivan from now and when he’s done with them and compare levels of greyness.

    • Roar Guru

      May 18th 2017 @ 8:18am
      Michael Keeffe said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      I think the Panthers pre-season favouritism was a joke anyway. Last year they were highly inconsistent over the first 21 rounds never winning more than 2 games straight and primarily going win-loss. They were out of the 8 at the end of round 21 before winning their last 5 games to finish 6th. Of those last five wins only one was against a 2016 top 8 side being the Titans. The rest were Newcastle (16th), Roosters (15th), Tigers (9th) & Manly (13th).

      They beat a badly fading Bulldogs in the first week of the finals before being bundled out in week 2. Nothing to write home about and nothing to indicate they should be premiership favourites. They were totally overhyped at the start of this season. With an easy run they may again go on a run to make the finals but they are no chance of winning the premiership and in reality never were.

      • Columnist

        May 18th 2017 @ 8:43am
        Tim Gore said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        Yep. I noted that their run in was soft last year. But you can only beat what’s in front of you.

        • May 18th 2017 @ 1:48pm
          Jacko said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

          Thats part of the problem Tim. The comp should be fair and equal. Everybody plays each other

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2017 @ 3:09pm
          Michael Keeffe said | May 18th 2017 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

          I agree you can only beat what is in front of you, I just think that the hype around them (not the Panthers fault) was ill-informed and most commentators talking them up didn’t factor in their soft run when declaring them premiership favourites.

    • Roar Guru

      May 18th 2017 @ 8:28am
      The Barry said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      I thought the Raiders would kick on this year but their tactics were risky in relying on a centre to create so many point scoring opportunities.

      I agree that they need to get to a simple game plan. It shouldn’t be too hard for them to steam roll teams through the middle with their big pack and with Leilua, Rapana, Cotric and Wighton doing the early set work.

      Then have Sezer and Austin kicking for the corners. Beat teams in the middle before trying to razzle dazzle them.

      I always thought the Panthers and Warriors were being massively over hyped.

      The Warriors no doubt are about to start their mid season run and become everyone’s premiership smokey.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the Panthers went on a mid season form jag as well. Man sauce might be back in the next month or so, likely low origin representation and according to Tim a relatively easy draw.

      Can’t see them going deep into September though…

      • Columnist

        May 18th 2017 @ 8:41am
        Tim Gore said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        Man sauce!
        Lol!
        I’m a huge fan of his. Once he is back I reckon the Panthers will improve massively.

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2017 @ 8:57am
          Mr X said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

          I’m worried how he’ll go coming back from such an extensive injury, but he has certainly looked determined as ever,

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