Dale Budge is a sports writer for the NZ Herald.

NRL: The root of all the Warriors problems

Ben Matulino of the Warriors charges forward during the round 11 NRL match. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Matulino of the Warriors charges forward during the round 11 NRL match. Photo / Getty Images

My colleague and mate David Skipwith wrote that the Warriors season is hanging by a thread after last night's loss to the Dragons in Hamilton.

He's right but worse still the Warriors are running a serious risk of this season spiraling horribly out of control by the midway point and that could prove very costly in the years to come. In previous years the collapse has come after the Origin period and at a time when the club has convinced itself it can make the playoffs.

The past 120 minutes of football against the Panthers and Dragons is as clueless as I've seen. Confidence is at rock bottom and coach Stephen Kearney needs to make changes.

Let's examine a few of the key problems.

The Warriors forwards, as I wrote after week three, are rubbish. James Gavet aside there is just no go-forward. Forget the numbers they put up - numbers don't highlight what platform is being laid. The Warriors went set-for-set with the Dragons through the opening 10 minutes last night and didn't make an error.

It looks promising on paper but in reality they didn't ask a single question of the Dragons and didn't fatigue their opposition in any way. One-out straight running, with no footwork, no serious punch or creative play is just too easy to defend.

The Dragons meanwhile were dominating through late footwork at the line from impressive forwards Jack de Belin and Paul Vaughan. Russell Packer hit the line hard and all of the Dragons forwards showed some creativity with a change of angle or tip-on pass to make the Warriors defense work and therefore fatigue.

The issues start up front. Gavet is impressive carrying the ball for about 10 minutes at a time before he is a spent force and becomes a massive liability defending. Charlie Gubb and Sam Lisone fatigue far too quickly and have too many errors and penalties in their game while Jacob Lillyman gives them honest toil but no quick play-the-balls.

This remains the root of all of the Warriors problems.

Because they are not working over the opposition they are getting more energy thrown back at them and that is leading to miss-tackles, offloads and having to work harder without the ball. Sure - the defense is embarrassingly bad at times but it stems from the lack of parity up front.

Hooker Issac Luke has been a giant waste of money since arriving from the Rabbitohs but to be fair to him, his skills are best suited behind a dominant pack.

It is the same with halfback Shaun Johnson. Johnson has turned in two of his worst performances these past two weeks and he looked broken at times against the Dragons as everything he tried went pear-shaped. He's trying hard - maybe too hard - and it is clear that he will never be a good half when playing behind an average pack. He deserves criticism for his lack of execution but at least he's trying. I can't say the same for Kieran Foran. The five-eighth was fantastic in the first half against the Panthers but we saw nothing of him in the second half or in last night's loss to the Dragons. Surely he needs to take control of the last tackle options more than he has when the side is struggling.

The Warriors are yet to really play their cards in terms of 2018 recruitment. They signed Kiwis second-rower Tohu Harris in the pre-season and have extended deals with Gavet and Ligi Sao. They are believed to have signed Titans back-rower Leivaha Pulu and they continue to search for a halves partner for Johnson but it is clear they need to put all of their attention and pour a significant part of their remaining cap space on big boppers.

They could start by looking really hard at how the Dragons have assembled their pack. With Lillyman, Matulino, Gubb, Albert Vete and Toa Sipley all off-contract or heading elsewhere next year the Warriors need to sign another four or five big men.

It is pointless trying to find the right halves partner for Johnson until they get that base sorted first.

Listening to Kearney in the press conference and speaking to him post-match, I get the feeling he knows all of this and recognizes the problem. The fix won't be easy and it almost certainly won't happen overnight. I just hope it doesn't blow up so bad that he doesn't get the chance to fix it.

- NZ Herald

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