The Wests Tigers appear destined for a tenth straight NRL season out of the finals after their top-eight hopes were dealt a near-fatal blow with a horror second half against the Warriors.
Last week the Warriors were rumoured to have turned down the opportunity for a reunion with one of their former greats, Shaun Johnson.
It came after they saw the future against Melbourne last week in Reece Walsh. And it was confirmed against the Cowboys that the Warriors have a special talent.
The non-reunion with Johnson shows how far the Warriors have come as a club, and more importantly that they have a solid plan for the future.
With players such as Addin Fonua-Blake signed long term, and Ben Murdoch-Masila playing a dominant role, all while having an injury list approaching double figures, it shows the balance and depth the Warriors now have.
Even more so when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is leaving at the end of 2021, and yet for once they have a succession plan with Walsh for 2022 and beyond.
Over the past 25-plus years, the Warriors have had good players but very rarely had strong depth, hence only two appearances at the big dance since 1995.
Previously when Stacey Jones left, they gave the seven jersey to Nathan Fien, who was serviceable but hardly elite.
Similarly after Johnson left, Adam Keighran started Round 1, with Blake Green also playing in the role. Irrespective, it wasn’t a long-term plan, and realistically not one that you could build a premiership-winning team around.
The exciting difference is that they are developing a young core of players such as Walsh, Rocco Berry and Chanel Harris-Tavita.
Interestingly enough there is probably a lack of young forwards coming through, which will no doubt be addressed, either through development or astute signings.
The other pleasing aspect is that the inclusion of Berry and Walsh has seen the Warriors become a lot more threatening with the ball, but also a much faster team.
Earlier in the season they were caught short against Manly for pace, and it looks like they have worked on a plan to add pace to the team.
Having pace out wide has given Kodi Nikorima more confidence to run himself, probably as the threats wider have created space for him. This was seen against the Cowboys where they hung off him, concerned for the threats wider out.
The immediate challenge for Nathan Brown is going to be deciding who are his best 17 players, partially with injured players due back in the future rounds.
With players such as Euan Aitken and David Fusitua due back soon, there will be some tough decisions to be made.
Further, the breakout star of 2020 – Eliesa Katoa – is stuck in the Queensland Cup and with players like Josh Curran ahead of him at the moment, he will have to perform outstandingly at that level to warrant selection in first grade. This is as opposed to in the past, when players stayed in the 17 due to no one putting pressure on them.
Finally spare a thought for the Broncos. Yes, it’s been well broadcast Reece Walsh slipped through their hands, and obviously Sam Walker did too, but the Warriors’ halves against the Cowboys were two Broncos juniors: Walsh and Kodi Nikorima.
It shows the change in fortunes where the Broncos have been a development club for other teams.