Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ivan Cleary’s indignation could finally take no more as his selectorial axe scythed its way through his first grade side, today.

First up, there was a loss to Parramatta. Indignation aplenty, but he chose to forgive. Next, there was the lost opportunity to down West Tiger’s away from home. Indignation must surely have been battening down the hatches to avoid inadvertently letting the axe loose. Then, after an underwhelming effort last Sunday against St George, Cleary let his ire run amok.

Gone for their encounter with Cronulla in Taupo on Sunday are Lance Hohaia, Joel Moon and Brett Seymour. Replacing them are first round debutant Glen Fishiahi at fullback, Bill Tupou onto Kevin Locke’s wing, with Locke banished to the interchange bench, Shaun Berrigan at centre, and Feleti Mateo comes into stand-off with James Maloney moving in one spot to take Seymour’s halfback position.

One of the privileges of having a deep reservoir of player depth is to have the option to dispense with the services of some players, all the while, when necessary, to switch others around within the team for the betterment of a side.

This, Cleary has done, with a myriad of positional changes.

With Jerome Ropati suffering a season ending left knee injury (ruptured crucial ligament), Captain Simon Mannering moves from the second row to cover centre. Mannering and Berrigan will more than cover the defensive duties that will be put up for their attention, but it remains to be seen whether they have the same options on attack as their predecessors. That said, saving a try is often the equivalent of scoring a try.

Fishiahi, brought in to replace Hohaia at fullback, can expect a torrent of bombs to be sent his way after fluffing an attempt at diffusing one in the opening round. But, the young superstar is a resilient character. Famous for his blunder last season in the Toyota cup where he ran the length of the field, but failed to dot down in favour of premature try celebration, only to have an opposition player knock the ball from his grasp, he took the humiliation of the situation in his stride and bounced back with a level-headed assurance that would be the envy of many players greatly more experienced. Not only is he a resolute character mentally, but, he has speed to burn. Which is suited to the open field running of a fullback.

With a noted ball player in the form of Mateo at stand-off, opportunities could well exist for Fishiahi to run off Mateo’s shoulder. Against St George, Mateo was one of the few in an underperforming side to show the capacity for the offload. A bee-line for Mateo, Fishiahi must make.

Of course, none of this can happen without a forward pack that sets a suitable platform. The front rowers have not been making the yards expected of them. After sixty minutes against the Dragons, prop Russell Packer had made only twenty-five metres. While retaining his position, more will be expected of this talented young man from Levin. He is joined in the front row by the bulked-up Jacob Lillyman, while regular starter, Sam Rapira, travels back to the reserve bench.

Coming in to fill Mateo’s vacant second-row position is Ukuma Ta’ai, who gets his first appearance in a Warriors jersey for 2011. A talented ball runner who can also offload, he will be a straight replacement for Mateo in the sense that both are noted attacking weapons. Ta’ai will join forces with Lewis Brown, one of the Warrior’s few shining lights this season, in the second row.

Joining Locke, Rapira and Ben Mautalino on the bench is Elijah Taylor, who debuted early last season before having his year destroyed with a serious knee injury.

For Cleary, he can only hope that all the changes will bring about a positive result up against a Cronulla outfit that is on a roll after defeating St George, and then giving Penrith a 44-12 annihilation in their previous two matches. Cronulla possess a hardnosed pack of forwards and will not easily be out-muscled.

Changes aplenty there may be, but, in the end, it is still thirteen against thirteen, and the time is fast approaching for the New Zealand Warrior’s to get their season back on track.

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