Some of the best things come after disaster. After an earthquake, fire or flood we rebuild often better than before.
As the curtain comes down on yet another failed season from the Warriors opinions will be dished out like confetti on what needs to happen to fix the mess and get this franchise back into finals footy.
Many will talk about the coach and whether Andrew McFadden is the right guy for the job. That is a big discussion in itself but I want to park that to the side for the moment because either way the current roster isn't likely to produce a significantly better result next year regardless of who is coach in my opinion. The sad reality too is that there isn't a lot of wiggle room to make much change to it for 2017.
On paper the Warriors roster looks good. Some of the biggest name players in the game in key positions, rep stars right through the line-up but in reality games aren't played on paper. They aren't played by players' stats. The side that takes the field must gel. They must complement each other's skillsets and work together to break the opponent down and there is the biggest problem for me.
The Warriors don't have balance across their roster. To highlight this let's wipe the roster clean and start filling it up again but instead of naming names, let's just describe the type of player we want in each position. Once you've done that across the board you can start filling in names and see what skillsets the Warriors currently have and where they are currently lacking.
The forward pack is key for me and this where the Warriors are struggling most. The back-row needs to be full of guys that make their tackles - you just can't afford to have the Feleti Mateo-type player who is a defensive liability there. Ideally across the three starters you want a guy who will tackle all day in the middle and be the leader of your side defensively. You want one second rower to be a guy who runs hard, hits gaps and does the basics. They don't need to be flashy, just a guy who can run good lines off the chief play-maker and provide a short ball running option. They don't need to be a guy that creates chances but rather the type that takes chances provided by others. The other second rower ideally has a bit of ball-playing ability, has some footwork and an offload. That would be a guy capable of creating something rather than relying on someone else to create the chance.
The modern front rower needs to get quick play the balls. The game these days is as much about speedy ball as it is about gaining metres. In fact the best way to gain metres is to get quick play the balls. Good props have two main methods of achieving this. They either bend the line through sheer power - big boys that run hard and knock the opposition back, pushing through with size and strength. The other way is to use faster feet, moving the point of contact at the last minute away from a set defender so that he has to use a weaker shoulder or catch the defender so he can't use his legs to drive up into the ball-runner. Late footwork at the defensive line essentially. In an ideal world a side would have two of each type with one of each starting and one of each coming off the bench. It means at most you have one big bopper out there and one slightly smaller but more agile prop defending in the line. Two can become targeted defensively. Also on the bench you want a guy prodiving impact or serious versatility to cover injury.
On the back of all of that you need a hooker who can move the forwards around, help them hit half gaps and avoid marker defense and take advantage of quick play the balls.
When you look at the Warriors they probably have the work horse middle defender in Simon Mannering and they might have the hard-running second rower in Bodene Thompson but they clearly lack the creative back rower with offloads and ball-playing skills. Ryan Hoffman is a fine player and works tirelessly as well as bringing professionalism and leadership but doesn't really provide the skills the Warriors lack. They really don't have either type of prop on current form - Jacob Lillyman is a slightly older style prop and is probably in the latter part of his career while Ben Matulino hasn't proven an ability to get fast play the balls consistently although he does have a little footwork and is a big body.
I want to use the North Queensland Cowboys for an example about how to assemble a roster to win the title. The defending premiers made the Grand Final back in 2005 when Johnathan Thurston announced himself as the best player in the sport and he's been in that sphere ever since. The Cowboys tried to get back to the Grand Final for a decade and failed. Over the past five years or so they have had a roster highlighted by rep stars Thurston, Matt Scott, James Tamou, Jason Taumalolo, Gavin Cooper, Michael Morgan, Matt Bowen etc. It took them until last season to get all of the missing pieces to their puzzle. They added one or two at a time in recent seasons. Those final pieces weren't superstars, they were value-for-money role-players that brought a unique skillset to the roster that until then had been missing. Guys like Lachlan Coote, Ethan Lowe, Kyle Feldt, Jake Granville and Kane Linnett that didn't command massive dollars and weren't considered elite or even high echelon players in their respective positions. The Warriors I feel are in a similar spot. They might have the key ingredients already but they lack the variety and role-players needed to be at the pointy end of the ladder.
The Cowboys halves highlight what you need in a combination - a field marshal who generally is the primary last tackle kicker, the organizer who steers the team around offensively and who controls the game. The other half is usually a ball-runner who is most threatening with his footwork and ability to run the ball. They can assist and provide an alternative kicking option and ball-playing ability. Thurston is obviously the field marshal and they have a dangerous ball runner in Michael Morgan. When you look at the Warriors Shaun Johnson possesses more skills suited to the secondary role - the Morgan role. His best asset is his running game yet he is charged with leading the team around the park and doing all the things a field marshal is asked to do, which limits his running. Johnson would be at his best with someone who brings complementary skills. Thomas Leuluai does some of those things but not enough and next year they will desperately short with him heading back to England. Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Adam Reynolds, Daly Cherry-Evans etc are all elite versions of the player the Warriors are missing next to Johnson but Canberra has shown us this year you can get the right guy without the big reputation or big chunk of the salary cap. Aiden Sezer provides that role for the Raiders, Ash Taylor has done it superbly for the Titans this year.
Further out the Cowboys have given Thurston another hole-runner in centre Linnett. He isn't the best player in the competition and at other clubs he might be considered run-of-the-mill but on Thurston's primary left edge he does his job perfectly and is as valuable to that team as some of the best centres in the competition. Thurston has two hole runners on that left side (Linnett and second rower Cooper) and then a speedy winger with good footwork in Antonio Winterstein. On the other edge the Cowboys use the running game of Morgan, the speed and footwork of Justin O'Neill in the centres and then a big-bodied winger in Kyle Feldt that helps them get a set going when they are in an arm-wrestle situation. On both sides the skills complement each other.
Going back to the Warriors and there really isn't a lot of balance to either edge. They have mucked around with big wingers to counter a pack that fails to get go-forward against the better sides. They have players that are good individually but don't necessarily complement the guy standing next to them. All in all it doesn't work.
The spine (halves, hooker and fullback) are the highest paid players in the game because their skillsets are the hardest to find and hardest to develop but even a great spine cannot beat the best sides in the competition unless they have the right role players around them and a forward pack that creates momentum and speed in front of them. It is no use spending all of your cap on the spine and having nothing left for role players. It is also not good spending all your money on role players and then making do in the spine as the Warriors did a decade ago when they signed Steve Price and Ruben Wiki. Like anything to do with a salary capped league - the answer is balance.
The Warriors at present aren't far off in the spine but they need a field marshal to allow Johnson to be most effective in his specialized area. That person doesn't have to be elite. I've mentioned Sam Williams from the Raiders a number of times who is off-contract at the moment. The Warriors need to change out a couple of forwards for players that have different skillsets and likewise in the back-line. While they are a long way from being good enough to win a title in 2016 they might only be a handful of moves away from having a roster capable of contending in the near future. Seeing that and identifying the missing elements is vital however. Cap space is limited for 2017 but they should be able to address one or two areas. As of November 1 players off contract at the end of 2017 become fair game for rival clubs. The Warriors have plenty of talent coming off contract at that time and will have cap space to play with.
They have two months to figure out what to do with it.