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

League: Warriors need to focus on a Plan B

The Warriors need to lock up Ata Hingano as quickly as possible. Photo / Getty Images
The Warriors need to lock up Ata Hingano as quickly as possible. Photo / Getty Images

It's time for the Warriors to again dust off their Plan B folder. It has been a well-used resource over the years, with so many of their big ideas not evolving as expected.

The departure of Kieran Foran in 2018 to the Bulldogs, which looks all but done, is unfortunate but also presents an opportunity.

The Warriors can now rev up plans for next season, after their recruitment and retention programme has operated with the hand brake on over the past few months, waiting on Foran's decision (among others).

Firstly, the club need to lock up Ata Hingano as quickly as possible. He's a rare talent for a young player, and was flown to the Melbourne Storm last year for a tour of the club. Their interest has apparently cooled since Cooper Cronk announced his departure - they are now chasing a senior half - but others will circle. Hingano is the future, and could, with the right application and management, wear the No6 jersey at Mt Smart for a decade. He needs to be assured of his standing once Foran isn't on the scene.

A Shaun Johnson decision is also imminent, and may accelerate now that he knows Foran's intentions. The halfback is more important than ever.

Then the Warriors need to assess their priorities, which appear to be reinforcements in the forwards (desperately needed) and outside backs.

The ongoing Ben Matulino situation is a bit of a mess. When on-song he is clearly the best forward at the club, but the Warriors stalled on offering a new contract, wanting to see what Matulino would deliver in 2017, instead of being confident in their ability to get the best out of him. Their delay may prove costly.

But otherwise, the Warriors have a window of opportunity. They have a multitude of players off contract at the end of this year, most of whom have had a chance to prove their worth (or otherwise) over the last two or three seasons.

The club needs to act judiciously, and without sentiment, on who should stay and who gets cut, then find the most suitable talent available around the NRL. It doesn't necessarily mean big money - remember James Maloney in 2010 - and Paul Vaughan's recent move to the Dragons is a shining example of a great pickup.

At the same time, there needs to be a focus on getting the best out of their 2017 campaign. Foran will surely feel responsibility to lead that charge, and it is imperative the club makes the finals this year. Otherwise there is no platform for next year.

Look at the lack of playoff experience across their roster. Of the likely 17 to face the Storm on Tuesday, only eight have played in finals and two (Foran and Ryan Hoffman) won't be around next year.

Stephen Kearney has also never tasted September football as a coach, nor have his assistants Andrew McFadden or Stacey Jones.

Foran's likely exit looks harsh - especially with the soap opera circumstances of the past few weeks - but his overall impact can only really be judged in five months from now. If, at that stage, the Warriors find themselves in the top eight, then the amount of time, energy and resources poured into the Kiwi international would have been justified.

There is also the intangible effect of Foran's presence on the training field for the best part of a year, with everyone soaking up lessons from the experienced playmaker. Foran was always only likely to stay for a year, despite the hopes of everyone from managing director Jim Doyle to the fan base, and now reality will probably bite.

- NZ Herald

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