League: What went wrong with the Warriors?

By Steve Deane

Injuries to crucial players, lost opportunities and recruitment imbalances contributed to a disaster season for theWarriors, reports Steve Deane

Some of Brian McClennan's ideas worked; unfortunately some backfired spectacularly. Picture/ Greg Bowker
Some of Brian McClennan's ideas worked; unfortunately some backfired spectacularly. Picture/ Greg Bowker

30 per cent blame

The coach

As the man with most influence over the day-to-day fortunes of the team, Brian McClennan must carry the can for a good chunk of the season's failures.

His initial focus on improving the side's attack made sense given the limitations in that area under Ivan Cleary. But improvements with the ball in hand have come at the expense of a previously rigid defence, with damaging consequences.

The team has defended well enough at times but there has been little consistency or sustained improvement, while lapses at crucial times have been catastrophic.

Some early selection bolters actually panned out well (Ben Henry and Konrad Hurrell both clearly belong in the NRL) but the jury is well and truly out on others such as Omar Slaimankhel, Sam Lousi and Glen Fisiiahi. Some of the coach's tactical adjustments worked well.

Switching Elijah Taylor and Feleti Mateo helped shore up the left edge defence and increased Mateo's influence on attack, while Henry also proved a useful Mr Fixit on D. However, other moves such as switching Manu Vatuvei to the right wing and carrying Hurrell on the bench as an impact player were less successful.

Bringing an injured Hurrell back on against Manly in Perth backfired spectacularly, as did asking Henry to debut at centre against Steve Matai in round one in front of a bumper crowd at Eden Park. A lack of toughness, both mental and physical, has been the biggest disappointment of McClennan's brief reign.

The team has fought hard from time to time - most notably in Melbourne against the Storm and in Perth against Manly - but for the most part they have been about as intimidating as a baby field mouse. "I'm the bloke steering the ship, steering the bus," McClennan said following the Cowboys thrashing.

20 per cent blame
Injuries

With Micheal Luck's off-season surgeries turning into a nightmare and senior props Sam Rapira and Jacob Lillyman injured pre-season, the Warriors were dealt a rough hand from the start. The early loss of senior back Jerome Ropati and the persistent, recurring injuries to fullback Kevin Locke and back-up Glen Fisiiahi were major blows, while the wheels have fallen off completely without captain Simon Mannering's steadying presence. That said, all teams suffer injuries and plenty of clubs could make the case that they have been at least as badly affected as the Warriors. The Tigers, for instance, have been decimated this season, but have soldiered on and kept their campaign alive. The real problem for the Warriors has been a lack of depth, with the club paying a huge price for trimming the wider first team squad from 35-31.

20 per cent blame
Recruitment

The player the club brought in has been good. The problem is that Nathan Friend arrived on his own, while veteran hands Lance Hohaia, Brett Seymour, Aaron Heremaia, Joel Moon and Shaun Berrigan all passed him at the airport going the other way. As well as that vastly experienced core, fringe performers such as Jeremy Latimore, Isaac John and James Gavet were all shipped on. That cleared the decks for the promotion of the cream of the junior talent that delivered back-to-back Toyota Cup titles, however the balance has been badly out of whack. When injuries struck, the club was forced to bolster an already green side with more players with little or no experience. At one point this season the most experienced back on the field was James Maloney, who had 60-odd games to his name over the 2 seasons. Some short term pain as the junior talent finds its feet was inevitable, however, the retention of one of two more old heads might well have avoided the full scale collapse that ensued.


5 per cent blame
Luck

Pure dumb luck plays a part in every season. The Warriors drew Melbourne twice early on when Billy Slater was in unstoppable form and the Storm all but invincible. The Storm then promptly lost Slater to injury and dropped six of their next seven games. The Warriors will also rue being handed an arduous trip to Perth to face Manly and another long-haul to Townsville either side of a meeting with a Cronulla side that had been reinforced by its best two players, Paul Gallen and Todd Carney. But the club also had some kind breaks. They faced the Cowboys' B team at home during the Origin period and played the competition's best side Canterbury just once, at home. The draw has handed the Warriors a favourable run in, but the horse has well and truly bolted and the injury curse has refused to relent.

25 per cent blame
Lost opportunities

The Warriors blew it in 2012. Not once or twice, either. Manly were there for the taking in round one but the Warriors played soft in the opening 20 minutes and blew a golden chance to take down the premiers. They threw away a brilliant effort against the Storm in round eight - thanks largely to a Krisnan Inu shocker - and then blew a win against the Tigers in round 11 with Manu Vatuvei's fumbles. Those games, though, were nothing compared to what was to come. They coughed up a 10 point lead in the final minutes against the Sharks in round 15; outscored Brisbane two tries to one in the rain in round 19 but lost when James Maloney couldn't kick a goal; surrendered an 18-point head start at home against the Knights in round 20; and then melted down from 22-6 ahead with 25 minutes remaining against Manly in Perth in round 21. Those six matches equate to a quarter of the season. Every team will suffer a tough loss or two during the season. But six? That's truly appalling.

0 per cent blame
The Inu red herring

Krisnan Inu may be tearing up for the Bulldogs but anyone who thinks the decision to release the enigmatic back mid-season has influenced the Warriors' fortunes is dreaming. Inu joined a very good Bulldogs side that was already playing well without him. At Canterbury his extravagant but erratic talents are the cherry on top of the cake. At the Warriors he was a sponge, soaking up energy and resources that could better be invested elsewhere. Hardly a favourite of Ivan Cleary, Inu was handed a clean slate when the new coach arrived. Just weeks into the pre-season he was already on the outer. He was overlooked for the first match, played 27 minutes of the bench in round two and then didn't reappear until round seven. He scored a try in a convincing victory over the Rabbitohs but was truly dreadful the following week against the Storm. Des Hasler may be extracting gold from Inu but the line of coaches who have failed long term where Hasler is succeeding short term with Inu winds around the block several times. Inu wasn't to blame for the problems at the Warriors this season, but nor was he a cure for them.

Positives
It hasn't been all bad. Until the past two weeks the Warriors have at least been good to watch. They've attacked with plenty of flair and skill and pulled off some fine victories, including impressive demolitions of the Rabbitohs and Broncos. Some at the club have never forgiven this correspondent for describing the team's style in 2009 as turgid tripe.

The 2012 Warriors have been far from turgid. Their job is to entertain and win, and for the most part they have lived up to at least half of that bargain. They've also been open and accessible to the public, and on the whole a pleasant bunch to deal with. The lone off-field incident was a low level driving offence. The likes of Ben Matulino and Russell Packer have enjoyed stellar seasons, while the hulking Hurrell is a superstar in the making.

With Owen Glenn's arrival the club has well-resourced, highly-engaged ownership. The owners have big plans. The question after such a disappointing season now is who at the club will remain a part of those plans.

- NZ Herald

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