The New Zealand Warriors put up a fight against the Penrith Panthers on Friday night, pushing the league-leaders close in a tight 18-12 defeat. After the game, Warriors head coach Todd Payten pointed out one player who has the potential to go far, if he makes one key improvement.
Warriors halfback Chanel Harris-Tavita has received a challenge from interim head coach Todd Payten - get comfortable, and get mean.
Since taking the reins in the No 7 jersey on a full-time basis ahead of last weekend's match against the Manly Sea Eagles, the 21-year-old has settled in nicely. Bringing a youthful enthusiasm to the game, Harris-Tavita has been assisting on tries and linebreaks, and taking the line on.
But his enthusiasm for the game is clear on the defensive side of the ball too. Harris-Tavita goes looking for work on defence – as he showed by lining up Penrith Panthers forward Liam Martin late in the Warriors' 18-12 loss to the Panthers on Friday night.
Now, with the Warriors eyeing a surprise bid for the playoffs, Harris-Tavita's influence on the side shapes as an important part of the plan.
"I think Chanel's played a couple of decent games. What I like about him is he actually goes after the game. You saw in that tackle late in the game when things were pretty tightly contested, he's actually tried to turn it for the team," Payten said.
"He's going to develop into a good first-grader. His direction and talk are probably the things that he needs to, not get better, but it's a week by week thing. It's about him feeling confident and comfortable with his role within the team.
"He needs to feel comfortable telling players around him where to go and what to do. If he has to swear and be mean and whatever it takes, that's what he's got to get to - like a good halfback."
Harris-Tavita was promoted to the starting side as a long-term option after the departure of Blake Green, who left to join the Newcastle Knights in round 13 after being told he was unwanted by the Warriors beyond the 2020 season earlier in the year.
With Green left a wealth of experience and, importantly, the Warriors' lead playmaker. Through 12 rounds, Green led the Warriors with six try assists and was usually tasked with getting the kick away on the last play.
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While that duty has since fallen onto the shoulders of five-eighth Kodi Nikorima, Harris-Tavita has shown a willingness to take on that pressure – with a pinpoint cross-field kick landing in the hands of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the Warriors' first try against the Panthers.
It was one of just two Warriors tries in a tight contest against the top team in the competition. Despite the Panthers having the majority of the ball and territory, only six points separated the sides in a telling performance.
"I'm proud of the effort, but really disappointed that we lost," Payten said. "We played tough; I've been asking for that for weeks. I thought we'd been building a few times in the past.
"We played a team at the top of the ladder; they had 160 more plays with the ball, 12 more sets, nine repeat sets, a lopsided penalty count, but we kept turning up and that's what the game's about."
The Warriors have also secured the loan signing of Manly outside back Albert Hopoate. The son of John and younger brother of Will, the 19-year-old is one of the brightest talents in league, though had an outstanding junior career halted by two serious knee injuries.