Welcome to The Roar’s 2020 NRL preview series, where we will go over the chances and fortunes of all 16 teams for the season ahead.
The Warriors hype machine was at full noise leading up to Simon Mannering’s 300th match, and rightly so for a player who has given so much to club, country and game.
While his soft hands in a sweeping try-scoring movement last week reminded us of his skill set, he will be best remembered for his relentless intensity, accuracy and effort.
Mannering has consistently set the standard at the club for more than a decade.
The night might have been all about Mannering for the fans, but for the Warriors there was a chance for a home semi-final if they could overcome a monster Canberra side that had beaten both the Bunnies and the Roosters in their last two matches.
The Warriors clung on grimly in an error-riddled finish to win 20-16. It was another roller-coaster ride in an NRL season with more peaks and troughs than a mountain range covered in pig farms.
Other results didn’t go the Warriors’ way and they missed a home semi-final. They’re likely to finish in eighth spot unless Manly can upset the resurgent Broncos at Suncorp.
It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a result, and it was an encouraging sign for the finals; good teams find a way to win when they aren’t playing at their best.
There were other encouraging aspects of the performance too.
Agnatius Passi stepped up against the massive Canberra forwards, muscling his way to 177 hard-earnt, angry metres in perhaps his best performance in a Warriors jumper.
Tohu Harris put in another Mannering-like defensive performance with 36 from 37 tackles as well as grinding out 147 metres with ball in hand.
Peta Hiku can be a polarising player, and I was one of the many concerned by his tendency for defensive lapses at critical moments. However, Hiku issued a timely reminder to coach Stephen Kearny and everyone at a sold-out Mount Smart Stadium that he can make the big plays in the big moments too.
That pass! It was the sort of pass that you’d expect to be thrown by the secret love child of Sonny Bill Williams, Matt Gidley and Jesus. I don’t even know how that would work, but I still don’t understand how Hiku got that ball away either.
With a tackle success rate of 81 per cent for the season, Hiku has also collected three tries and dished seven try assists from 20 games this season, many of which were gladly received by record Warriors try-scorer David Fusitua.
I expect Kearney will reinstate the more defensively reliable Gerard Beale when he’s fit. Beale offers just enough offensively, but Hiku will have given him plenty to think about.
Like Mason Lino and Jazz Tevaga, Hiku is another player who can play a role and make significant contributions when called upon.
By the way, does anybody else get an irresistible urge every time commentators mention Tevaga’s name to yell it like it’s from the Lion King? Jaaaaazzzzzz Teevaaaaangaaaaaa!
No? Maybe you should. Go on, try it.
It was unfortunate Mannering left the field, grimacing in obvious pain, but possibly it’s a sign from his tired body that he had made the right call to hang up the boots this year.
The Warriors got the result and Mannering enjoyed a rare moment of public emotion during his excellent Darren ‘gravel throat’ Lockyer impersonation. It was a fitting farewell to a player who throughout his career shied away from the cameras and lights yet cast such a big shadow.
Johnathan Thurston’s final season showed the fairytale finish doesn’t always happen, but it was great to see the Cowboys win for him and for Thurston to receive well-deserved accolades and acknowledgement.
I will never forget Thurston’s 2015 grand final performance against Brisbane. As a fan of the game I feel very fortunate to have been at the ground to watch one of the greats at his peak. Breathtaking.
Let’s hope that injury to Simon Mannering isn’t too bad and that the Warriors still provide that fairytale finish. Regardless, you’ve played a great hand, Simon. Enjoy your young family and all the opportunities your post-footy career offers – you’ve earnt them.