Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

League: Team hobbled by the fear of failure

Kiwis rugby league legend Mark Graham. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Kiwis rugby league legend Mark Graham. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

I caught up with Mark Graham this week and he got me thinking: maybe we are too hard on our sportspeople.

Mark knows about pressure from his time as the world's best player and also as Warriors coach, but he couldn't believe the vile nature of criticism directed at the Warriors recently.

We didn't have social media in our day and that's a good thing. People can interact directly with sportsmen and women and hide behind their horrible words anonymously. It was interesting to hear both Shaun Johnson and Manu Vatuvei say they have been adversely affected by what is happening on social media.

It was also interesting to see Warriors coach Andrew McFadden say this week that he somehow needed to bring enjoyment back to Mt Smart because that is exactly what Mark said.

He felt the Warriors were playing only to win to get the pressure off their back, not to enjoy or express themselves. In sport, as in life, people should either get out or do something different if they're not enjoying themselves.

Look what Israel Dagg has been able to do. He admitted a rediscovered love of the game helped in his recall to the All Blacks.

I remember a period towards the end of my time as a player with the Roosters. Mark Murray took over as coach and, in a move that was supposed to lift the mood, brought in small penalties for mistakes made in games and training.

It might sound ridiculous, but it got to the point in one game when Kurt Sherlock refused to pick up a ball our fullback had knocked on because he was in an offside position and the opposition picked it up and scored. Sherlock admitted all he could think about was being slapped with a penalty at training.

It seemed the Warriors were too scared of making mistakes through fear of being criticised.

They looked happier after last night's game but that might have been relief more than anything. They certainly played well against the Broncos but it's what happens next week and the week after that which is the most important thing.

They have games against the Knights and Roosters, who have both struggled this season, and everyone will expect the Warriors to win well. It doesn't usually work that way with this club. I've stopped betting on them because I'm sick of wasting my money - they lose when I think they'll win and win when I write them off.

I'm still not sure if the Warriors have the enjoyment back, and I'm not talking about false harmony. Winning will help but it really only lifts the pressure we have all created.

- Herald on Sunday

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