Sunday, March 28, 2010

Warriors Go On Scoring Rampage

The New Zealand Warriors have unearthed a good one in James Maloney. In only his third game for the club, he has equalled the points scoring record for a match with a twenty eight point haul that included three tries, seven conversions and for something a little bit different: a penalty goal. For, there certainly isn’t any baloney with Maloney. After a number of seasons struggling to find quality halves, it looks like the hunt is over.
A 48-16 win over the Brisbane Broncos in Brisbane, as great as it was, did have its downside with their celebrations being dampened somewhat with the prospect of losing both Captain Simon Mannering and superstar winger Manu Vatuvei for extended periods due to hamstring injuries.
Other than that, though, there was nothing but positive to come out of the match for the Warriors. If their attacking mojo had gone on vacation last season, then, it certainly has reappeared with a vengeance in 2010. They spent the afternoon offloading with like their lives depended on it. And the Broncos, in the end, had no answer for it. Constantly the Warriors made breaks due to Brisbane being unable to put a stop to the off loading. If we all got a penny for every off-load that occurred in this breathtaking contest, we’d all be mighty rich by now.
It wasn’t just Maloney that starred. Aaron Heremia once again gave a fine display of dummy half running and looks to have cemented the position. What was most impressive, though, was the overall forward effort. Having lost Mannering and Vatuvei within the first thirty-five minutes, they dug deep and each played more minutes than what would normally be the usual, due to being down to a two man interchange bench.
The first ten minutes of the game was of a frenetic nature. It was end to end stuff, but with no result for either side. Until the 9th minute that is, when Maloney kicked a penalty goal to kick-start the scoring frenzy that was about to occur.
Both sides had struggled to find a way over the opposites goal line, but that changed in the 15th minute when the first try finally came after Darren Lockyer put Matt Gillett into a gap ten metres from the Warriors goal line. Gillett off-loaded to Israel Foulau who decided not to take the scenic route, instead preferring to stampede his way to the try line carrying three Warriors defenders with him, as he score twenty wide of the right upright.
The good, the bad and the ugly made its presence felt in the 22nd minute. The good: Simon Mannering scored to put his side back in front. The Bad: he reinjured his troublesome hamstring that he had been battling for much of the pre season. The ugly: it was off to the sideline for him to meet up with an old acquaintance in the form of an ice pack.
Only five minutes later Lance Hohaia went over to score the Warriors second try. As with the previous try, Maloney converts.
So, hey, despite Mannering’s injury, there is a lot to be positive about and a 14-4 lead over Brisbane in Brisbane is not to be scoffed at. Not to mention the fact that The Beast was lurking about waiting to add to his already impressive try scoring tally for the season.
Until the 34th minute that is, when he tore his hamstring in a Brisbane attacking foray into Warriors territory where the Broncos produced what could only be described as a rugby league addict’s wet dream. A length of the field try which started with them spreading the ball wide to their right side attack. Once there, Ben Taeo was put on the outside of his opposite and he raced along the grassy expanses of Suncorp Stadium for fifty metres, before off-loading to Lockyer who was brought down two metres out from the Warriors goal-line. They then immediately went wide to Wallace who put Gilette into space who dived over in the left side corner, to bring his side back to a four point deficit.
Brisbane dominated the rest of the first half, as well as opening the scoring in the second half with a try to Andrew McCullock in the 43rd minute. With the conversion from Peter Wallace, Brisbane led 16-14 and most would have expected them to go on with the job from here on in. But, that was where the fun stopped for them and the despair and misery began.
The Warriors players had a whale of a time though. The 2009 model would not have won this match, but the updated, more finely tuned version is a different beast altogether. Fitter, faster and stronger, they went on a scoring spree that one would have thought only happened in one’s dreams. But, their dreams came true. And, oh, what entertainment it was. A banquet of six tries (it took them six games to score that many last year) and the Warriors fans that turned up were in a state of delirious rapture.
It started in the 46th minute when Jerome Ropati went over for the first try of a double. What started as a simple hit-up by Jeremy Lattimore, turned into an attacking sortie down the left side attack of the Warriors as he off-loaded to Wade McKinnon who sped off along the field for forty metres before passing to Ropati to put the finishing touches on a splendid piece of work by his teammates.
His second came in the 56th minute, but not before Joel Moon helped himself to a piece of the try scoring cake in the 51st minute, after the Warriors got to the fifth tackle. Now, most teams would kick on the last, but this is the Warriors and it certainly would be no fun at all to do something sensible. So, if you’re Lance Hohaia, why not pass to Aaron Heremia on the last, which he did, and if you’re Aaron Heremia, why not run straight up the middle of the park for thirty metres instead of kicking, which he did. Only then did Heremia consider the rather novel notion of kicking on the last. But not one of those boring high kicks, for him. Oh no, he had to put a clever little grubber kick through to Brisbane in-goal on the right side of the field for Moon to scamper through and dive on the ball for a marvellous try.
So, then, good percentage football from the Warriors. Despite the 30-16 lead after Ropati’s second try, Coach Ivan Cleary must have been having heart palpitations with the amount of ad-lib football going on. He must have also wondered if Brisbane would find another gear and mount a comeback. If Brisbane were contemplating a comeback, now would have been a good time to start. But, alas, it was not to be for Brisbane as the Warriors went in for the kill.
And this is where James Maloney made his presence felt. Why score one try when you when can score two, and why only limit yourself to two when you can partake in a hat trick. Maloney certainly didn’t see any need to limit his horizons. His entree arrived in the 63rd minute after Kevin Locke and McKinnon made big metres up the middle of the ruck and offloaded to Maloney to dive over to score under the crossbar. The main course entered the playing arena in the 70th minute, as once again the Warriors made breaks up the middle of the park.
Next up was the desert. Like some of his teammates, Maloney doesn’t always believe in the value of a kick on the last tackle. Much wiser and better to put in a chip kick, chase through, and boot the loose ball ahead, regather the ball and once again score under the crossbar. Simple, really.
This gave the Warriors a 48-16 lead and that is where it stayed.
After having been touted by many as one of the leading contenders for the wooden spoon, while it may still be early days, it seems that the Warriors coaching staff have gone a long way to solving some of last year’s problems. Especially the attack and concerns over the players’ fitness levels. They showed no great difficulty in handling the hot Brisbane day, and this match started at 1pm, not later in the day when the temperatures are on the wane. Both teams played the majority of the match with a two man interchange bench, but, even so, Brisbane would have been expected to be handle the conditions better. In the end though, they did not impact on the outcome of the match.
Their much maligned attack of 2009 seems to have been left there fortunately. While this season, it seems to be a more ad lib style of play, it most definitely is working for them. What is helping more than anything is their constant offloading, which opposing teams are struggling to close down. Hence, the opposition is being worn down physically and opening up gaps in the middle of the park.
And if they keep this up, not only will fifteen other teams have to be on their guard when they come up against the Warriors, the rugby league public are going to be treated to some stunning football.
Not to mention those heart palpitations.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Vatuvei Secures Hat-Trick

Manu Vatuvei’s name is becoming synonymous with the opposing teams in-goal area. Last week he picked up a double; this week it was a hat trick. What next Manu? Maybe go for a quad of tries or will you be sharing this try scoring caper around a little. His coach Ivan Cleary certainly will be hoping he continues his rich vein of try scoring form.
His three tries were part of a six try scoring fest that kept the 15,314 fans happy that turned up at Mt Smart Stadium tonight to see the New Zealand Warriors subdue an average Cronulla Sharks outfit, thirty points to sixteen.
The only negative to come from the match was the way, that after having procured a 16-nil lead after only seventeen minutes, the Warriors allowed Cronulla back into the game to level the score at sixteen a piece at half-time.
The first quarter of the match was dominated by the Warriors, due to a 68% share of possession. They put it to good use, too. On the back of a penalty, the Warriors forged their way into enemy territory in the 6th minute and found themselves only five metres out from Cronulla’s goal line. Aaron Herimia, in another stand out performance after last week’s fine effort against the Gold Coast, scooted through some paper thin defence to score ten metres wide of the goalpost. Kevin Locke missed the conversion, but it didn’t take long before the Warriors were back in a try scoring mood. Not surprising really, considering possession was still well in their favour.
Which brings us back to Vatuvei. For it was he who scored their second try, after Lewis Brown had busted open the Shark’s left side defence and off-loaded to Locke. The ball then passed through the hands of various Warriors players as they swiftly navigated their way over to the their left side attack, where new Captain Simon Mannering came into possession of the football only to have to give it away to Jerome Ropati who then passed to Vatuvei on the inside, who barged over ten metres in from the sideline. This time Locke did convert to give his side a 10-0 lead.
Things were looking good for the Warriors, and it only got better in the 18th minute when Mannering chased a Lance Hohaia grubber kick through to force the ball down only inches inside the dead ball line. With the conversion came a 16-0 lead and it was looking like the Warriors would romp away with the match.
But, this is the Warriors, remember. If there is a chance to let the opposition back into the game, they will give it a mighty good go. They did a fine job of helping the momentum of the match swing by giving away six consecutive penalties. Which certainly enhanced the Shark’s opportunities to score the points required to get themselves back in the match. And this they did, initially through a Luke Covell try out wide, which was converted by Scott Porter.
Then, in the 34th minute, the sharks kicked high on the last tackle and Blake Ferguson out leaped Vatuvei to bring the score back to 16-10. Porter once again converted and it was a four point game, not to mention, game on.
Even more so after Porter kicked two penalty goals in the closing stages of the half to level the score at 16-all. Which was a good result for Cronulla, in light of their lack of possession early in the contest. Ivan Cleary would have been furious, though, having seen such a promising start and sixteen point lead squandered.
He needn’t have worried, though, as possession in the third quarter headed back in the Warriors direction. This led to the Warriors being hot on attack in the 48th minute, as James Maloney dived for the try line, only to be obstructed and harassed by the goal post padding. So they went to their left side attack, instead. And who else was there waiting? Yep, you guessed it... Manu “The Beast” Vatuvei. He gratefully accepted the invitation to put a dent in the Cronulla defence which he gleefully did, carrying three defenders with him as he barged his way over to score his second try and give his side a four point lead. It would have been six, but Herimia missed the conversion.
Things got worse for Cronulla over the next five minutes, as the Warriors had 94% of possession in this time. The Shark’s did their best to stop their foe from having a jolly holly good time. But do you think they succeeded? That’ll be the day. And it was due to the ever present Vatuvei, who just happened to be on hand as his side spread the ball wide to his wing for Vatuvei to secure his hat-trick. Herimia, one would imagine, approved of the try, just not the position it was scored in, as he had to attempt the conversion. He missed. Still, the Warriors had an eight point buffer and Cronulla didn’t look like seriously challenging their line.
And that is the way it turned out as Cronulla, despite putting in a spirited defensive effort, could not score again. The Warriors did though. In the 35th minute, Sam Rapira dived over to score under the crossbar. With the conversion to Maloney, the Warriors had helped themselves to a 30-16 victory to get their first win of the season.
A solid effort too, it was. Despite letting Cronulla back into the match in the second quarter, they dominated possession for the majority of the match, and looked likely to do something with it. Unlike last season, their trimmed down playing staff seem to be able to make line breaks. With much better support play, they are now giving themselves a better chance of finishing off the initial break. The likes of Vatuvei are reaping the awards of this better functioning attack.
What is even more impressive about it is that it is coming off the back of good go forward from their young props, in the form of Sam Rapira and Russell Packer. Steve Price is still out with a heel injury.
While there is still a long way to go, and Cronulla are one of the weaker sides in the competition, the Warriors have showed that they are on the improve from last season’s dismal effort.
Manu Vatuvei, for one, is definitely enjoying his team’s improved attacking fortitude.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

So near and yet so far away.
That was the story of the day for the New Zealand Warriors as they went down 24-18 to the Gold Coast Titans at Skilled Park today.
Having dominated the first half with a lead of 18-6 after thirty-eight minutes, they, despite a valiant effort, let in three converted tries over the next forty-two minutes.
For much of the first half they looked by far the better side. Their go- forward, despite being without regular forwards Steve Price, Simon Mannering and Jacob Lillyman, particularly up the middle of the ruck, was excellent. Hooker Aaron Heremia was having a field day running from dummy-half and was their player of the day. The defensive effort was on the whole, solid.
Warriors sides have always been more of a threat when they throw the ball around and it was clear that they have been given a license by Coach Ivan Cleary to do so. And they looked liked scoring regularly because of it.
Which they certainly achieved without too much trouble. Manu “the beast” Vatuvei, unlike some, doesn’t believe gluttony is evil. For “the beast” had a feast in the form of what will be at least two tries this season.
His first try came from a James Maloney bomb on the last tackle. Vatuvei assumed his customary position for such kicks by soaring high over two Titans defenders to pluck the ball out of mid air and dive over to give the Warriors a 4-0 lead. Brett Seymour, who had a perfect day with his kicking boot converted and the Warriors had the start they were looking for.
Vatuvei was up to his usual try scoring tricks again in the 33rd minute with an opportunistic piece of work after he gathered a stray pass that had gone to ground. Having scooped the ball up, he did a 270 degrees turn and strolled twenty metres to score and after the conversion and Kevin Locke having touched down in the 22nd minute, gave the Warriors a 18-6 lead.
They looked to be well on their way to an upset victory, but, the Titans had other ideas. With one minute to play in the first half, Anthony Laffranchi ran through a yawning gap, in what had been good defence up until then, to score and bring the gap back to six after Scott Prince had converted.
It was game-on, but despite having a 15 minute break, both teams played like they had been going for hours. Thus, the first twenty minutes of the second half could only be described by the following: the ball control of both sides was blah blah blah crap blah blah blah. The attack of both teams was blah blah blah bollocks blah blah blah.
Fortunately, things did pick up after this colossal bore of a quarter. Mind you, it was the Titans fortunes that got a major boost. For in the 62nd minute, winger David Meade scored in the corner. With yet another Scott Prince conversion the scores were level at eighteen a piece.
Another try in the 70th minute to Preston Campbell gave the Titans a 24-18 lead. This was enough to get them over the line for a first up, though unconvincing win, despite the momentum changing in favour of the Warriors over the last five minutes. Alas, it was not to be, as they couldn’t take advantage.
For the Warriors, after last season’s melancholy of a performance, things are looking like they may be on the improve. The anticipated problems of not only competing against quality opposition, but, also the heat factor on the Gold Coast, did not come to fruition. The Warriors appeared, despite losing, to have no major problems with the heat. This would suggest that they are a fitter side this season than last.
That, in itself, gives hope that they are headed for an improvement on last season’s fourteenth place.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

With the start of the NRL season only days away, fans of the New Zealand Warriors will be pondering the chances of their team. Wondering, they will be, whether the sleeping giant of rugby league will soar to heights unseen before: or will they crash and fall into a chasm of ineptitude, leaving a long trail of debris strewn across yet another dismal season of discontent.
Most have written off their chances -particularly across the Tasman- of making a top eight appearance this year, let alone visiting the rarefied heights of a grand final appearance. This lack of expectation may well work in their favour. Last season, laden with the pressure of being expected to be a major contender to take out the premiership, they collapsed in spectacular fashion to finish an abysmal fourteenth place. With seemingly no hope been given to their chances, it may free the shackles mentally and help them display their true ability.
Please excuse me while, like others today, I visit the confessional. “Forgive me Father, for I may have sinned”. “What, my child, have you done?” Well, Father, at the end of last season I had serious doubts as to whether Ivan Cleary was the right person to take the New Zealand Warriors to the promised land of grand final glory”. “You see, their attack last year was about as likely to succeed as you are to endorse your parish to indulge in random acts of indiscriminate mating out of wedlock”. “Overall it was not a good season, and, not only that, the two previous seasons under Cleary, they had to rely on a last minute charge to get to the top eight”. “My child, has Cleary admitted any mistakes were made? “Yes Father, he has. He admitted that he got the fitness regime wrong, focusing on bulking up and not enough on getting the players aerobic fitness levels to the desired level”. “Anything else that he has admitted to needing to be changed, my child?” “Well, he has changed his Captain for the season and he has recruited what appear to be some good players for the crucial halves positions”. “Well then my child, there is no harm done in holding the opinion you have. But, from what you say, this coach appears to be admitting there have been mistakes made, and, after all, if you accept and admit you have made a mistake, then, at least, you have a chance of changing and improving. And remember, my child, you should always admit if you were wrong about someone”. “Oh Father, I’ll happily state publicly that I was wrong about Cleary if he gets the desired results this season. Thank you, Father, you are so wise”
I’m back. Now, where were we? Ah yes, The Warriors chances for 2010. The biggest change this year has been the demotion of Steve Price from the captaincy. This is a bold move on the part of Coach Ivan Cleary, not to mention controversial. New Captain Simon Mannering has no previous experience of captaincy and will have to learn the job in the furnace that is the toughest football competition in the world. Not a particularly easy task, it has to be said.
It has been stated that some of the playing staff do not relate easily to Price. So what? Surely, when as a player you are paid several hundred thousand dollars per annum, that makes you a professional. Hence, you get out and perform each week to the best of your ability regardless of what you may think of the captain or any other of your teammates.
What this move potentially may do is to disenfranchise their best player. And make no mistake about it; Price is the Warriors star player and vital to the chances of the Auckland based franchise making the top eight. If his heart is not in the cause as much as it once was, then this could cast a cloud over proceedings at Mt Smart this year. The club will be hoping that Price maintains the professionalism in his last season of league that he has displayed throughout his career. Possibly, a better way to go would have been to keep Price on as Captain and have Mannering as his vice-captain. That way keeping the experience at the top and giving Mannering an opportunity to learn the ropes from Price for a season, before taking over for 2011.
Already Price is missing from this Sunday’s match against the Gold Coast Titans due to injury. And that was a major problem last year. They lost Brent Tate in the third round. His leadership qualities were sorely missed last season. With him back, he will add some experience to the backline. Not only that, but he is a highly competitive performer that will not take a step backwards against anyone. He has a bit of mongrel in him, as it were. And it seems that is what the Warriors need as they appear to be no longer feared, as Wendell Sailor stated last season. Gone are the days when Monty Betham and Awen Guttenbeil would hand out a reasonable sized dose of justice, when it was called for. Perhaps it is time for one or two of the forwards, as well as the likes of Tate to start putting some fear back into the opposition teams.
And add an attacking halves pairing to the mix of ingredients required. With the Stacey Jones experiment having failed last year, Warriors management went in search of an attacking halfback. What they found was NRL bad boy Brett Seymour. Having had his contract torn up at twice previously for alcohol related incidents, he is on his last chance in the NRL. So far so good for Seymour and the Warriors as he has stayed out of trouble off the field, and on it has showed promise in the pre season trials. While not much can be read into trial matches at times, Seymour has certainly appeared to feel at home in the role of leading his side around the paddock.
Whether this will translate into a better attacking performance this season remains to be seen. But Seymour certainly has the talent. No one at his previous clubs got rid of him for a lack of playing ability, that’s for sure.
And the Warriors certainly do not lack talent as a team. With a roster of the quality they so clearly possess, it would be expected that they reach the top eight.
Here’s hoping.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Rugby season got underway several weeks ago and will soon be joined by Rugby league and Netball. So what better time to celebrate some of our champions of the winter. Those that inspire us all, for whatever the reason. Whether it is for their attacking brilliance, maybe their leadership skills or perhaps someone whose personality as well as their sporting prowess draws the sporting public to them.
One such person is Irene Van Dyke. The South African born goal shooting star with the golden smile and a winning personality to match her superstar status as the world’s best goal-shooter has got it all. Not only does she have a wonderful gift as a match-winner but no matter how much pressure she is put under she goes about her business with that infectious smile permanently planted on her visage. How infuriating for her opposition it must be, no matter how much they attack her to still be unable to combat her genius.
For as much as they physically pummel Van Dyke in an attempt to unsettle her, she continues to shoot at over ninety percent. And she does it with a smile. It must be oh so tempting for Van Dyke to give it back in retaliation. Most of us would surely resort to such antics. But not Van Dyke. She simply just lets her playing ability do the talking for her. The fact that she doesn’t retaliate shows just how good she is and what personal standards she maintains.
That she has been without peer now for twenty years speaks volumes for her playing ability. Not only that, but she clearly is an extremely dedicated lady to keep at her chosen sport at this high level for twenty years. And she shows no sign of slowing down, whether it is physically or mentally. And mentally, there are very few in any sports that are a match for this supreme sporting being.
Nudge, budge, you name it, Van Dyke’s opposition have tried with all their might to put her off her A game, yet she handles the pressure with supreme ease. Her rivals could plant a bomb as the goal defence and Van Dyke would still somehow find a way to shoot at ninety-five percent. Maybe send her back to South Africa, would do the job. But then, other than those few rivals, this country would be up in arms, so much is Van Dyke loved and cherished by the New Zealand public. You can’t blame them really can you? I mean, who wouldn’t like a 6ft3in blond Amazonian with a stupendous personality?
And she has clearly dedicated herself to the cause of the Silver Ferns, and, even more so, to being a great member of our society. Van Dyke could have easily come to New Zealand to achieve her netballing ambitions, and then taken off back to South Africa to live. But not for Van Dyke to do things by half measures. Instead she threw herself into becoming a proud Kiwi and, luckily for New Zealand, she has stated her intention to continue living in New Zealand long term.
Van Dyke goes about playing her chosen sport with the brilliance that comes from being a genius but, also, and more importantly, she does it all with great humility.
Irene Van Dyke, you are a true champion. For that, all of New Zealand salutes you.