Dylan Cleaver's Midweek Fixture
Don't go changing Warriors. Well, not too much anyway.
In an increasingly prescribed sport that is becoming not so much characterless as featureless, the Warriors shine as a beacon of hope for those of us who still cherish chaos.
Diehard Warriors faithful have little time for fairweather fans. One season ticket holder pointedly held up a sign earlier this season – as the Warriors jumped out to a 5-0 start and attracted big gates – that said: "Where were you when we were losing?"
So let me say that I have not jumped on the Warriors' bandwagon because they are winning; I have hitched a ride for the simple reason that every time they step on the field I have no idea whether they're going to win or lose, whether they're going to get blown out or win in the last minute via a Shaun Johnson field goal.
That, to me, is a hell of lot more exciting.
There are those who might see the Warriors 26-6 humbling of the boring Brisbane Broncos as the start of a second wind that will fill the sails at Penrose and push them into a prime playoff position.
I prefer to see it as another wonderful antidote to modern league; an 80-minute cluster of excellence that was fortunate to fall between opening whistle and closing siren. If the Warriors were always like this they'd be like the Melbourne Storm and lord knows the last thing the NRL needs is another Melbourne Storm.
I write that with all due respect to Craig Bellamy and staff who have done the near impossible and created an NRL stronghold in an AFL citadel but their joyless pursuit of competition points has never spun my wheels.
When Stephen Kearney came aboard last season and immediately tried to instil the sort of rigid on-field discipline he'd been part of at Melbourne and Brisbane it was a wash out: the imperfect amalgam of club and culture.
The Warriors weren't designed to be like that. The club's DNA is rooted in the stylistic mores of Auckland league, not the more robotic sensibilities of Australia. Those that want the Warriors to be more like Australian teams, to have a more hard-nosed Australian pros in their ranks (and in the past I've probably called for this myself), are surely missing the point?
To be fair to Kearney, he arrived to a mess and felt he had no choice but to try to implement some building blocks based on discipline. To his credit he has loosened the reins and let the players have more latitude.
There is bound to be a metric that proves me wrong here, but it seems to me that when the Warriors revert to their worst, they're also reverting to that rigid pattern of last year.
League, to these eyes, is in a tricky place. The sport is, in essence, the NRL – and the NRL is, well, a bit same-same.
Every team, weak, strong or middling, plays to a similar template, which is built around mistake-free football where you try to limit the amount of ball the opposition gets in attacking zones. Outbreaks of adventure are increasingly rare.
In other words, you tune in to any NRL match and you have a fair idea what you're going to see. The only thing you're unsure of is which team is going to be more predictably effective on any given day.
The Warriors in 2018 are offering a tantalising of what league should be – sometimes awful, sometimes, brilliant, nearly always compelling, rarely boring.
I love the fact the only statistical categories the team leads is that for offloads and field goals. There's also something really Warriorsy that sees them second in missed tackles.
Yes, it'd be nice to see the Warriors win more consistently. Auckland is a city crying out for an oval-ball team to do justice to all the talent it produces and an NRL premiership, like a Super Rugby title, might be some time away.
Until then, I'm happy to embrace a team that refuses to play it safe, who are prepared to look a bit silly in order to win big.
I suspect they'll get a toweled up by the Storm this weekend. But then again they might not.
Either way, I'll be watching.
THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...
Bill Simmons was once a ubiquitous feature of the American sports media circuit. Then he got sacked by ESPN and started a niche site called The Ringer. This is one of the better pieces I've read on the site, and I'm going to call it a sports story because I can.
From the same site, a piece for old sports journalists, using the relocation of the LA Times to reflect on what sports journalism, sports journalists, and sports sections used to look like. It stops short of being a lament but nevertheless the sign-off carries a punch: "I've been out of the business so long I can't tell you what it's like now," Klein continued. "But I can tell you what it's not like. It's not like it was."