Paul Lewis: Warriors caught in a downward spiral

By Paul Lewis

The New Zealand Warriors are in the midst of a downward spiral. Photo / Getty
The New Zealand Warriors are in the midst of a downward spiral. Photo / Getty

The latest joke doing the rounds is that the Warriors have the bye this weekend but might lose anyway.

Not very funny, right? But it's indicative of a club caught in a downward spiral - and so is Konrad Hurrell's demise and shift to the Titans.

In a classic example of the great clobbering machine's ability to kick you when you're down, just about everyone has had a go at the Warriors, with the steel-toed boots now aimed at coach Andrew McFadden. The latest was league legend Graham Lowe whose advice was for McFadden to resign, even though he is backed by the club's management and, apparently, the players.

"Lowie", as ever, wears his heart on his sleeve, imbued with a love for league few can equal. But his heartfelt cry to unchain the creativity of the Warriors simply reinforces the feeling the club are doing the only thing they can right now: boxing on, however painful it might be.

Lowe's criticism was a team full of creative players are barely creative at all and that the "tea lady could do structure". This roundly ignores criticism from fans and observers over the years that the Warriors were too concerned with throwing the ball around than effective, percentage play - basic things like set completion and defence - and needed a more efficient, Australian mindset and execution.

It also ignores the fact you'd need a double-decker bus if you ever put on public transport for a reunion of all the former Warriors coaches. Getting rid of McFadden would just add another corpse to the heap of failed experiments undertaken in the Warriors' version of Dr Frankenstein's laboratory. Their track record of attracting "name" coaches has been non-existent and there is nothing to suggest the next poor bloke on Frankenstein's table would end up with anything other than a bolt through his neck as well.

This has been particularly bad since the club, under previous management, elected to let Ivan Cleary go and saw him followed out the door by disheartened mentor John Hart. The club, unable to attract a big fish, had decided to build up their own coaching stocks. Cleary became the most successful coach in the club's history.

They are trying, under boss Jim Doyle, to do something similar with McFadden but things reached a disturbing low with that awful display against Canberra last weekend. McFadden looked like a man without answers. The whispers of a lost dressing room began afresh, even with the news a players-only meeting saw the team speaking their minds, taking responsibility and backing the coach.

Those of us who have covered sport for a while are often cynical about "votes of confidence". Sometimes it's PR, sometimes it's BS. But there seems little option for the club other than to persist with McFadden and assess things at the end of the season - to see if he has managed to achieve a respectable finish after all this turmoil and with Origin season at hand, when the Warriors traditionally do quite well.

Hurrell is the first of the naughty boys to go (one of the six who went out on the lash, breaking team protocol, and arrived late for a team meeting) and the one who probably alienated Warriors' management the most with a tweet dissing McFadden.

But if you put that to one side for a moment, there is a question preceding all this that has never been answered: why were the Warriors never able to coach Hurrell, an indisputably talented player, to the level required to get him into the team on a regular basis?

Even Lowie's tea lady knows Hurrell was dynamite going forward but dysfunctional on defence, targeted regularly by crafty Aussie teams. There can be only two answers - either Hurrell was incapable of, or unwilling to, learn or it was a coaching failure. Actually, the departure of a talented player from a club who have to develop their own talent (because of the difficulty of attracting top-tier Australians from across the ditch) must always be counted a coaching failure - underlined by the fact the Warriors have stipulated to the Titans that Hurrell cannot play against them in the remaining fixture this season.

It's time for a clear-out. Hurrell seems the first of several players liable to quit/be farewelled, although McFadden, in attempting to shape the dressing room the way he wants it, also has to battle the perception that, even when the Warriors bring in quality players like Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, they somehow manage to turn them into not-so-quality players. It's a weird phenomenon.

For my money, the Warriors are doing the right thing - the only thing they can - right now. However, it remains to be seen whether the clean-out at the end of the season comprises not only players but also the coach. McFadden, armed with the players he wants, seems a better bet than flushing yet another coach down the toilet.

If they get rid of McFadden, maybe the tea lady should have a go. Few others will want to inherit what is left.

- NZ Herald

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