Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Issac Luke flop of the season

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Issac Luke has not lived up to expectations this season. Photo / Getty
Issac Luke has not lived up to expectations this season. Photo / Getty

There are many things to pick on at the Warriors, and somewhere near the top is Issac Luke.

Luke is the flop of the season so far alongside flaky Shaun Johnson. If the hooker can't start playing to his reputation he will join men like Andy Platt, Feleti Mateo, Krisnan Inu and Dane Nielsen among the worst name signings in the club's troubled history.

Some of Luke's statistics don't look too bad, but they don't tell the story. He started the season looking overweight which is as bizarre as it is unforgivable. A problem for Luke is that those initial out-of-shape images - including surmising what influence this had on the squad and what it said about the state of the club - are hard to shake when the Warriors unravel as occurred in Melbourne.

From the outside, it looked like he was playing the big shot, rolling into town on his terms rather than enthusiastically showing the club what it takes to be a champion, as he was with the Rabbitohs.

I can't think of a player who has annoyed me more in 20-plus years of Warriors turmoil. A few years ago, I rated him as New Zealand's most underrated sportsman, an NRL superstar who wasn't getting his due recognition. Now he might be the most overrated. Luke has lacked consistency, energy, desperation and command.

Things have not been easy for Luke and his family, apparently. Last month, he posted pictures of their newborn baby attached to a hospital machine. He also sent related baby-signals from the field to his family. We all have sympathy for parents in those sorts of positions. But from another perspective, the club needs to take these sort of overt personal references out of play and get down to business. If Luke is distracted to a degree that he can't do his job, then give him a break to get right. Otherwise, game on. And none of this excuses his poor off-season conditioning. Luke was brought here as a leader, a game-changer.

The Warriors are in yet another crisis because they are having to find the motivation to play well from out of chaos and criticism. They can't just turn up and play strongly week to week.

And dummy half has been central to the Warriors' longstanding problems, where there has been too much experimentation and instability. It is such a key position and the No 9 solution had supposedly arrived. Think again, because Luke has been well short of his considerable best.

Here's an amazing comparison with the best in the business.

Some of Melbourne ace Cameron Smith's normally pinpoint distribution has been strangely astray but he remains the greatest league command post in the game's history.
The man is a machine and hardly ever misses a game. Since the 32-year-old Smith took over as the Melbourne hooker in 2003, he has missed only a handful of matches through injury or suspension.

He has amassed 300-plus NRL games, played in at least 20 each season, and lines up in his 80th representative game when the Kangaroos and Kiwis clash in Newcastle next week. You would struggle to find a bad game in that lot. He is invariably superb and plays 80 minutes. Melbourne, Queensland and Australia know exactly what he delivers, and have ticked to his beat.

Contrast that with the Warriors. During that same time, the Auckland side have started 20 hookers by my count, while also flirting with a couple of others off the bench. Find an easy chair, make a cup of tea, and work your way down this memory lane:

PJ Marsh, Monty Betham, Tevita Latu, Paul Dezolt, Louis Anderson, Nathan Fien, Lance Hohaia, George Gatis, Ian Henderson, Lewis Brown, Aaron Heremaia, Alehana Mara, Shaun Berrigan, Pita Godinet, Nathan Friend, Elijah Taylor, Siliva Havili, Thomas Leuluai, Issac Luke, Jazz Tevaga.

There is talent and quality in there, but far too many names. It was up to Luke - who is four years younger than Smith - to stop the rot and inspire a new era. On the evidence, he's probably not up to it.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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