Richie Barnett on league

Opinion and analysis from former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett

Richie Barnett: The Beast must be put into space

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Manu Vatuvei. File photo / Wayne Drought
Manu Vatuvei. File photo / Wayne Drought

The NRL is going to be tighter than ever this season.

You wouldn't really have thought that possible but, of the eight first-up games last week, only one was a blowout - and that was a Gold Coast team tipped for the wooden spoon hammering the Cowboys in Townsville.

It already looks like some of the lesser teams have closed the gap with the big boys. The player movement over the off-season really seems to have balanced out the talent.

I really enjoyed the Warriors-Manly match. It was an attractive, open game, even if there were a few errors.

He won't have been satisfied with the result, but Bluey McClennan will have been happy enough with a lot of what he saw.

The handling was obviously a big issue, with Manu Vatuvei in particular having his problems. It's pretty obvious to me that teams target Manu these days.

When three or four guys jump on him the match officials can't really see what is going on. Looking at the replays there were some pretty clear strips, but it seems like Manu's background of handling issues is held against him.

I'd like to see him running at holes between two defenders rather than running so straight. If he did that, he could actually be more devastating. At the moment it's too easy to commit three or four to the tackle and climb all over him. The other option would be for him to submit in the tackle, but that would be a real shame as the Warriors get so much out of those blockbusting runs on their yardage sets.

Other than the handling errors the Warriors played extremely well. They look like a side that has the potential to go a long way this season. If their composure and patience improve they will have a very solid 2012.

Shaun Johnson was particularly impressive. He came into the season with a hell of a lot having been written and said about him on both sides of the Tasman. We've seen plenty of players fall over pretty quickly once they start to believe the hype, but Johnson seems to have his feet firmly on the ground.

There was huge pressure on him going into Sunday's match but he looked in complete control. The forwards punched holes for him and he picked his moments perfectly to strike. He took the chances that came his way when it was most needed, which is exactly what you want from your star halfback.

With his steadying presence, James Maloney was the perfect foil for Johnson. It's a partnership that should flourish this season.

The Warriors won't want to be taking the Eels lightly on Monday night. Despite their results the Eels are actually a pretty solid team. Their biggest problem has been in the final quarter. In their last seven matches they have scored just six points while conceding 77 in the final 20 minutes. That suggests there could be a conditioning issue but the club has brought in top trainer Cherry Mescia, so fitness shouldn't be a problem any more.

- NZ Herald

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