SMITHY: Warriors still five years away from NRL success

Brian Smith Columnist

By Brian Smith, Brian Smith is a Roar Expert

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    It’s completely understandable that people everywhere watching the Warriors crumble last weekend would feel some déjà vu.

    Too many times now this fade in the latter part of the season has caused many to wonder how a club with so many talented players can crash and burn in such a simple fashion.

    While recognising that Shaun Johnson and Ryan Hoffman were missing last Saturday, think also of the Dragons team hit by injury to a centre in the warm up with no back substitute.

    Then in the first part of the match they lost another back who wouldn’t return. They still managed a huge victory with two forwards playing on the right edge and only a two-man bench for most of the game!

    I felt it highlighted a really long term problem in the most embarrassing of circumstances. Losing to nil, by such a margin, to an opposition in such dire straights with in-game injuries says so much.

    Part of the problem is expectation. With such physically imposing and talented people abundant in Auckland and the whole of New Zealand, we all expect they will produce wonderful teams.

    But more than that they have high expectations of themselves. Lots grow up capitalising on a style based on that phenomenal physical prowess that so many of them display. It’s a core element of playing rugby league almost everywhere of course but I think there is an over emphasis on it in the development mentality of Kiwi players, even more than in other parts of the world of footy.

    In some cases that need to create mayhem physically might mean an underdevelopment of all the other skills for footy. Is enough time spent in developing the game awareness levels of their young players? I think the evidence suggests not.

    I can’t offer you the name of a Warriors player since Stacey Jones with problem-solving abilities. Someone who could spontaneously and successfully manage the game by exposing that depleted right edge of the Dragons was needed last weekend. An edge defence with two middle type defenders playing next to each other with a winger playing his first NRL match in a very long time has no chance – let alone not conceding a try in the entire 80 minutes.

    But it’s not just last weekend or this season. These sorts of losses have been the curse of the Warriors for many years.

    The try from dummy half by Mitch Rein, a noted dummy half sneak close to the line and a good one, also suggests a general naivety of the basic tactics and principles of professional standards. It’s just an example that happens way too often.

    These guys lack the craft, the deep understanding of the many combinations of communication and skill applications needed to beat their opponents.

    How has Manu Vatuvei managed to play all those seasons, yet still not understand how to execute defensively at a high standard as a left winger? I haven’t got the stats but my gut says the total of tries scored versus conceded around him would be close. And that’s before we get to errors on kick catching, one of the easiest skills to coach with a willing student and hours of practice.

    We all know there is so much more to footy than being big strong and fast. But in today’s world of sport the little guys no longer have a mortgage on the footy smarts. There are countless examples of big strong fast and smart players in every pro and amateur footy club.

    But not enough in that Warriors club.

    Coaches of the Warriors over quite a period of time have tried to Australian-ise the roster. Combine that with instituting rigid playing structures that are alien to Kiwis and I think they are going down the wrong path. Most Warriors players don’t perform best under rigid structures. A looser framework with more of a reliance on playing what they see suits their talents.

    Some incredibly poor recruitment of Aussies – as well as the highest-paid import in Sam Tomkins – hasn’t helped them recently. Even bringing in the ultimate professional Ryan Hoffman doesn’t appear to have worked well enough.

    I feel that’s because the process of becoming a true NRL player doesn’t start when a player reaches the NRL. To correct myself, I think it probably does at the Warriors but it should start much earlier in player development. Learning how to be footy smart on the job in an NRL match is way too late – and very costly.

    Winning NYC comps with huge, athletic and physically dominant wonder kids without a top line footy education and a pile of game sense won’t get them the players with the things that are needed to improve their NRL team performances.

    They need to change that thinking process as a club or they will continue to get what they have already got.

    Like all super competitive businesses and industries with a problem, they wish they had started five years ago. Right now as an ambitious and progressive business they could ask themselves the question “is it still going to be this way five years from now?” Not sure I like the answer to that, Warriors fans.

    So given they can’t and won’t give up for five years while they fix the problem, what can they do?

    They must compete at the very high level of NRL right now and still build to overcome their long-term problems.

    Brian Smith
    Brian Smith

    Brian Smith is a former player with St. George and South Sydney and first grade coach at Illawarra, St. George Dragons, Bradford Bulls, Parramatta, the Knights and the Roosters. He has taken teams to the NRL Grand Final on four occasions. He is a weekly columnist on The Roar, but to read more of his writing on rugby league, check out his website, Smithy Speaks.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • Roar Rookie

      August 14th 2015 @ 6:32am
      Squidward said | August 14th 2015 @ 6:32am | ! Report

      I’ll back em 1-2 years if Johnsons ankle heals 100% quickly. They’ve made GFs recently with lesser teams than the 2016 roster

    • August 14th 2015 @ 7:52am
      Terry said | August 14th 2015 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      The smarts issue is very relevant. For years now we see these huge Islander kids (in all clubs to be honest) in the NYC etc blaze through the ranks relying on size alone only to find that they are not that big once they hit 1st grade and have little to fall back on. then they are isolated by rival coaches and creamed.

    • Roar Guru

      August 14th 2015 @ 8:15am
      The Barry said | August 14th 2015 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      They should be doing much, much better than they have been.

      You can set your watch that they’ll start slow, surge during origin, have every two bit tipster declare them as ‘smokies’ and then fade ingloriously as soon as origin is done.

      Pressure is on next year. A roster of Johnson, Mannering, Hoffman, Luke, RTS, Beast, Hurrell, Matulino, Lolohea, Lillyman, Vete, Kata, Lisone is the basis of a top 4 side at worst and should be seriously in the mix for the title.

      Is McFadden the man to tie it all together? They need an experienced director of football to sort the club structure out from the bottom to the top. Know anyone that would be interested Brian?

      • August 14th 2015 @ 8:29am
        stu said | August 14th 2015 @ 8:29am | ! Report

        The warriors have not once had their first choice spine for the entire season and yet found themselves in the top 4 on the back of Shaun Johnson consistently oerforming.

        Tomkins has missed half the games. Leulaui the entire season, Johnson will have missed more than a third of the season. Thrown in pre season ending injuries to Laumape, Henry and the fact that hoffman has only played a handful you can see why its a struggle.

        How would Souths perform without Inglis, Luke, Reynolds, Sutton? They would be wooden spooners.

        • Roar Guru

          August 16th 2015 @ 1:07am
          The Barry said | August 16th 2015 @ 1:07am | ! Report

          What about last year and the year before that and the year before that.

          Constant underachievers.

        • August 16th 2015 @ 10:57pm
          Casper said | August 16th 2015 @ 10:57pm | ! Report

          Every club has to work through periods where key players are missing, the Warriors fare better than most as origin generally doesn’t impact heavily. Brian is correct in identifying the NYC issue, we’ve all seen the basketball scores in those matches, indicating that defence isn’t a top priority in that comp. interesting to check in 4 years to see how many of the 2014 warrior’s GF winning team have succeeded in the NRL. I’d guess there will be more NRL regulars coming out of the beaten Broncos team by then. The Warriors have the ultimate ‘go home’ weapon available to allow them to ‘test’ the salary cap. How many internationals can you stockpile under a genuine cap? Once Johnson went down, you could almost see his teammates accept that their season was over, and they are right.

    • August 14th 2015 @ 8:26am
      Brian said | August 14th 2015 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      They’ve already done a great service to the game by ruining the rorters and souths spines. They should be top 4 next year, but who knows with the warriors.

    • August 14th 2015 @ 8:44am
      cedric said | August 14th 2015 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      20 years in Oz, came back to NZ 96′, went to Carlaw Park several times, sat in massive concrete stand with about 6 others and about 50 others in an old wooden stand. the grounds and surrounds at the time were shocking!
      Then the footy, heaps of talent but no direction. The halves did not speak. The teams appeared to run straight at each other to see who was the toughest. What a waste!
      Dead right Terry and also Squidy. With Luke/Sheck/Johnson and a decent 5/8 2017 could be big. Warriors could do with another Matalino too!

    • August 14th 2015 @ 8:47am
      Gazzatron said | August 14th 2015 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      If all their players can stay fit next year then there’s no reason why the Warriors won’t take out the comp. All their rookies will know what a year in top grade is all about and be better for it.
      The problem at the junior level wont go away away until the coaches start coaching instead of picking the biggest, fastest islanders they can find to run through the opposition to win the comp. So in other words it probably wont happen.

      • August 14th 2015 @ 9:07am
        cedric said | August 14th 2015 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        yes, but I think this problem of the game being overtaken with huge straight running guys is about to come to an end. Or I hope it does with the reduction of the interchange.

        • August 14th 2015 @ 10:01am
          Gazzatron said | August 14th 2015 @ 10:01am | ! Report

          That might be the case at NRL level and I assume that’s why the Warriors have 80min backrowers in Mannering Thompson and Hoffman in their squad with Ben Henry an 80 min player too.
          It’s the juniors where there is the most need for change. Instead of relying on the islanders from South Auckland to lead the Warriors charge they need to start developing areas like Christchurch and Wellington. 2 of the best players are Mannering and Matulino who are both from Wellington.
          It starts from the grassroots.

          • August 14th 2015 @ 10:22am
            maximillian said | August 14th 2015 @ 10:22am | ! Report

            The Warriors have at least realised that domination of the U20s comp doesn’t necessarily translate into success at the top grade so there is a change in the mindset in regards to development. If you look at a lot of the current rookies like
            Lolohea, Vete & Lisone they all spent some time in reserve grade last year instead of bullying in the U20s. The exposure of playing against men has better prepared them for the transition to top grade & has enhanced their development.

            I think picking 17 & 18 year olds in the U20s & promoting the elite young players to the vulcans is the right way of getting more success for the Warriors.

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