Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: Nines risk season plans

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Warriors Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Issac Luke and Shaun Johnson are perfect fits for Nines, but Andrew McFadden must think of the bigger picture. Photo / Dean Purcell
Warriors Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Issac Luke and Shaun Johnson are perfect fits for Nines, but Andrew McFadden must think of the bigger picture. Photo / Dean Purcell

Warriors coach Andrew McFadden must undertake a delicate balancing act over the next fortnight - even before the NRL season begins.

As the hype builds for the Auckland NRL Nines on February 6-7, the focus will fall on Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke.

The Warriors have probably never had such a high-profile trio of Kiwis, and fans can't wait to see them in action together.

The ideal opportunity - in the minds of many - would be at the Nines, on a sun-kissed afternoon in front of a huge crowd at Eden Park.

All three, with their explosive styles, are suited to the shorter form of the game and could make the Warriors strong trophy contenders.

But that shouldn't drive the selection decisions.

There should be just two questions. What is best for the club, in terms of the 2016 NRL season? And what is the best way to ensure the Warriors - for a change - have a strong start to the season and are still there in September?

If the answer is Johnson, Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke getting early game time together at Eden Park, to work on combinations, fair enough.

But McFadden needs to be very careful with his decision.

Johnson shouldn't play. Hopefully it has been decided already - and just not made public - but there is no logical reason for him to be there.

Aside from the fact that helter-skelter games followed by abbreviated rest periods are not the ideal way to test out his ankle, the Nines are the perfect opportunity to give Jeff Robson time on the field.

The experienced Australian needs to build understanding and combinations with his new teammates and can lead the side through such a tournament.

It's also debatable whether Tuivasa-Sheck or Luke need to be involved.

Both went on the Kiwis tour and played their last match just 10 weeks ago.

And it's not just the physical aspect of the Nines, it's the mental demands of the weekend.

Look at how clubs like Melbourne, Souths, Manly and the Roosters have approached the tournament in the past two years. They have generally kept their most important players out of the action.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. As tournament hosts, there is considerable internal and external pressure for the Warriors to do well and decisions about Johnson, Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke may be taken out of McFadden's hands. The trio will be keen to play and their presence could add a few thousand to the gate.

"There's no doubt there's more pressure on us in this tournament than anyone else," said McFadden.

"I don't know too many other clubs that would put too much attention on it.

"Obviously we do because of the circumstances. But I'm not going to put too much emphasis on it. I would like to do well [and] we will put out a strong side but it's not the be-all and end-all of our season."

- Herald on Sunday

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Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday. He was named the 2013 New Zealand football writer of the year and was a finalist in the Sports Reporter of the year at the 2014 Canon Media Awards.

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