Friday, March 30, 2007

NRL Parity - Warriors v Storm

We are now into Round 3 of what is shaping up as a scintillating NRL season 2007. A double upset in Rounds threes Friday games with the Eels knocking off the Tigers and the Panthers beating the Broncoes in OT.

For the Warriors simply making it to the starting line unsoiled by any kind of scandal or upheaval has created an atmosphere of hope and confidence at the club and amongst the fans and media that has not been seen for several years. In retrospect, it's clear that the psychological and competitive disadvantage of a points deduction at the 2006 season's outset was nigh on impossible to overcome. However, having come through that particular maelstrom, the players seem hardened and ready to prove themselves in the 2007 competition unrestrained by any handicap.

In a salary-cap era, the NRL that the Warriors compete in is becoming increasingly characterised by parity, and the early results are backing that up. This season is wide open with every game open to an upset - there are no longer games of Broncoes v Cowboys where the Broncoes pay $1.01 to win.

It may now truly be the case that a team of Rugby League stars simply cannot be maintained for a sufficient length of time for true dynasties to become established. The 2002-2004 Sydney Roosters are the only NRL team since 2000 to defy this logic, making three consecutive grand finals, but winning only one. This seems like an anomaly and questions exist about how that Roosters team managed to comply with the cap - but that's a subject for a separate post.

Of the four teams that made the grand final in 2004 (Roosters v Bulldogs) and 2005 (Tigers v Cowboys) none even managed to make the top eight the following year. Accordingly we will have to wait and see whether the same drop-off could happen for the 2006 grand finalists, the Storm and Broncos. Broncoes have now gone three rounds without a single win!

NRL parity is not something we should be complaining about - it is the natural and intended result of a salary-cap system and makes the NRL sustainable. NFL and NBA salary caps have the same effect. For the NRL, the English Super League and world Rugby Union acts like an overflow into which highly-paid players can eventually drop when their fame, talent and experience (read age) become too great for their salary demands to be satisfied by any NRL club. In this way, each NRL season a new crop of talented young league players get a shot in first-grade NRL competition and this keeps the NRL fresh and open. The salary cap has been increased for 2007 to A$4m.

A successful NRL club in compliance with the salary cap must be one formed with an eye to the future out of an ideal combination of young and improving players and established stars, together with a few "sleepers" - overlooked or underrated players who perform above their pay packet. At this moment the 2007 New Zealand Warriors look to be a club with just this sort of combination.

So with the balance of round three still to play the competition looks amazingly open - it is imaginable that virtually any permutation of the 16 teams could form the top eight who will go into the playoffs at the close of the regular season. With this in mind, the Warriors' opportunity to shine looks tantalising.

A big game this week - with a virtually unchanged Warriors side facing up to a Storm side at home that have won both their two opening games. Melbourne were 32-16 winners over wooden-spoon favourites the Raiders in Canberra last week and scraped through for an 18-16 win over Wests Tigers in Round 1. These results aren't that impressive however it looks like the margins of victory are going to be narrow this season. Go the 12 and under at the TAB. Anyway this weeks game is the true test - win this and the Warriors are contenders!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Warriors hammer Broncoes 24-14

This team seem to be almost like a self fulfilling prophecy at present - winning big again this week vs the Broncoes - 24-14. Melbourne up next away from home - another big game against a high level opponent.

Eric is in the house

Following on from my post below - maybe just maybe even Eric thinks this year is special - for the first time in a long long time - he is giving public interviews in his role as owner of the Warriors -looking a little worse for wear but check this article.

Frankly Eric would sell if given a good enough offer but winning the NRL would be the best way to raise the value of the asset and attract the bids. So I think as fans we can feel pretty comfortable that Eric wants to win the competition. I am 100% keen on his ownership. Please comment if you think otherwise.

Am currently listening to Deaker via internet ZB broadcast and he is fresh - such a kiwi true blue. You can bet your boots on that. Have spent the better part of an afternoon and evening drinking and watch England v Israel - what a waste of my life - McLaren has to go - maybe the Woolmer treatment is a bit over the top but something has to change - NOW.

In other news Portugal has qualfied for the Rugby World Cup - I have tix for the NZ v Portugal game - (and the other group games) sweet!

Also got great news today that I have tix for the Man U v Roma Champions League second leg game at Old Trafford, April 10, super stoked! Over and out.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Golden Season 2007?

You know there is a really uplifting sensation around this Warriors side. This article quotes Hiho saying the camp has never been more stable or upbeat than in 2002. And frankly that is the season that I keep thinking back to. I mentioned late last year that the 2006 campaign could be seens as a parallel to the Anderson 2001 season when he took over the team - rebuilt it - and scraped them into the playoffs in eigth spot. This is exactly what would have happened last year but for the points deduction.

So we face 2007 and Cleary Year II is starting to look like a plausible successor to the 2002 golden season. He seems to have really built a platform here - a team that is balanced between style and consistency with a crew of solid young Australian recruits to grind it out and hopefully help us win some of those close games that we lost last year. I think dreaming of the minor premiership might be a bit ambitious - I mean we are only at Round 2 - but the top four is real possibility.

With all that said I remain worried whenever the Warriors are strong favourites - TAB has the Warriors at $1.50 to win - that is too short for my mind.

It would be nice to see a super talented NZ rookie emerge this year as well - ala - Hiho or Motu Tony in 2001-2002 - Simon Mannering can join this category - but a new 2007 kiwi rookie sensation would be great.

And finally foundation captain Dean Bell has rejoined the Warriors in a development role. I have nothing against Dean Bell - I am sure he can make a valid contribution to the club - however I would rather no reminder of the Warriors early years was kept at the club. Those seasons were nightmarish and guys like Bell profited hugely while the club went down the sinkhole. I recommend the book "Beleaguered - The Warriors From Dream to Nightmare" by Chris Mirams (if you can find a copy) and want some background on the excesses of this period. I don't want the kiss of death to land on this team this season.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bad boys

Following on from my thoughts below re this weekend's Broncoes side being potential ripe for the plucking - Bennet has announed that the Broncoes are playing an 18 year old at halfback this week - Joel Moon - who will apparently also handle the goal kicking duties. Grand final halfback Shane Perry has been asked to play five-eighth in Lockyer's absence. So Mr Moon who made his debut last week will be playing halfback and seems likely to assume the goalkicking duties with both Parker and Lockyer unavailable. Thats a lot of responsibility for an 18 year old in his second week in first grade. This has got to be a win for the Warriors - please don't blow it!
As an aside I note that this blog has had a dangerous tendency to actually focus on the Warriors as its subject matter lately so I thought I would open things up a bit by asking if anyone knows who this is?
And on a distasteful note does anyone NOT know who this is? Ugly story this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cleary names team to play Broncoes in round two

Cleary has named his squad for round two, only real change is Louis Anderson is out injured so Evarn Tuimavave will take a place on the bench and Michael Luck will join the scrum. Cleary is sticking with Mannering in the forwards - I guess because he has to get as many of his top guys on the field as possible - ala Hiho - in whatever position he can fit them.

Still waiting on some thoughts from the readers who actually watched the game - I have only seen the highlights package as per the link below to the TV3 website and Wade McK looks like a talented player with real gas.

Broncoes look like they could be ripe for the picking this week without Lockyer and Parker - so lets avoid a letdown and get this season off to a bold and fast start with another win!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Warriors triumph in opener - 34-18 over Eels

It is such a great feeling to make the effort to crawl out of bed at 7.30am on a Saturday morning in London to see the Warriors up 24-0 with 35 minutes gone. All those fans who turned up at the ground deserve that kind of performance. Crowd of 13,587 is not too bad - but I know the team (and me) were hoping for over 15,000.

Awesome start to the season - lets keep it going!

Anyone who was at or watched the game please drop some feedback into the comments section of this post about your thoughts on a big first round win.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Warriors v Eels - Teams for Round 1

The Warriors have now named their team for the first game of the season vs the Eels on Saturday. The team is as follows:

1. Wade McKinnon, 2. Michael Crockett, 3. Tony Martin, 4. Lance Hohaia, 5. Manu Vatuvei, 6.Michael Witt, 7. Grant Rovelli, 8. Ruben Wiki, 9. George Gatis, 10. Steve Price (captain), 11.Simon Mannering, 12 Logan Swann, 13. Micheal Luck.

Substitutes: Nathan Fien, Evarn Tuimavave, Epalahame Lauaki, Louis Anderson, Sam Rapira.

Notably as touched on and debated in my earlier post - Lance Hohaia has been selected in the centres. Simon Mannering will join the forwards in the second row together with Logan Swann and Cleary has opted for the Witt/Rovelli combination in the halves. Ropati is nowhere to be seen and Gatis has been preferred to Nathan Fien to start as hooker. So this is a new look side - with no preference being shown for seniority or reputation - this is very encouraging and Cleary is getting creative here - making space for Hiho by putting Mannering in the forwards.

As for the Eels you can check out their team selection here . Key news is that back rower Nathan Hindmarsh and winger Eric Grothe are both out injured. However Ian Hindmarsh has been cleared to play after settling his contractual dispute with former Super League club Catalan Dragans.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Price extends contract with Warriors

I know that I have previously expressed doubts about such an extension, however when fit Price is the model player at his position and he will be great to nurture and encourage the young props in the Warriors squad as they grow to eventually replace him in the 2009 season.

My only concern is that Price will not stay healthy - considering his age I think we can expect him to miss of the order of 10 or more games this season with injury - particularly if he were to play Origin again. No numbers have been mentioned in the context of the extension so with this in mind I can only hope that the Warriors have not over-paid to keep Price at the club.

Overall I am pretty happy with this extension as Price has been a consistent performer at the highest level and a stabilising influence at the Warriors during what can only be described as a rebuilding phase. I would be very happy for him to slide on into a management or coaching position at the club when he finishes up as a player in 2009.

Halves selection debate is really heating up out there as well - will it be Rovelli/Witt or Rovelli/Ropati - and where to slot in Hiho? Will be an interesting week for Cleary.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Packer brothers

As noted last year on this blog the Warriors have recruited the two enormous young Packer brothers from Foxton. To put it bluntly these guys are huge and we may see them in the senior Warriors squad sooner rather than later.

After trolling through the new and improved TV3 video news on demand website (nice work Paul) I located this profile item from John Campbell live last year on the brothers and their family in Foxton recorded after their signing for the Warriors. Nice touch of NZ charm in this one.

Friday, March 09, 2007

SBW signs with the Bulldogs

SBW has signed for five years with the Bulldogs for A$2m. See also this Bulldog for life story blah blah. Instead of feeling disappointed that the Warriors did not manage to sign him in fact I feel vaguely releived that the Warriors have held firm and resisted the urge to grossly over-commit the franchise to this one player. Is that so wrong?

Anyway so now we can get on and focus on the impending round one - looks like the bookies may name the Warriors as favourites against the Eels. While this seems valid on the basis of trial form - trial form is worth slightly less than photos of my butt and the Warriors are never a good bet as favourites so I will treat such favouritism with unqualified disdain. Unless of course the Warriors win by a massive margin - either way I will be ok.
I also had a shot today at projecting the 2007 table - its hard thing to do - I can't tell who are the absolute bunny teams anymore - Raiders and Panthers maybe? As for the top four can the Broncoes maintain or are they on the downward slide? Storm and Slater are still young so maybe its their year? And just how high up the table can we project the Warriors - fifth? Maybe even higher? Let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Warriors bidding for Sonny Bill Williams?

Contrary to various denials over the course of the week it appears that the Warriors are bidding for SBW - all bids must be in by Friday as this is the deadline for SBW to accept an A$1.5m three year offer tabled by the Bulldogs.

Notably Warriors CEO Wayne Scurrah has commented that finding the money to bid is not the issue due to the likely positive impact of SBW on gate takings - the issue is fitting SBW's inevitably massive salary under the cap. I also note Scurrah is saying that "there are no more salary cap skeletons in the closet" so lets hope he doesn't bend on his principles to try and sign SBW - the last thing this team needs is another points deduction for a breach.

And please god if they are bidding I hope they include a provision that SBW has to pass a physical prior to round 1 of every season in order to be paid his full salary and qualify under the cap. Presumably SBW's management and the Warriors could work out a way to insure the salary package such that if SBW was injured long term both he and the team would be compensated for his salary and the loss of gate takings. As much as I would love to see SBW in a Warriors uniform - this seems to me like a salary cap rort waiting to happen - unless Price gets ditched (and in fact the talk is that he will also be renewed if his body holds up) or Wiki takes a big pay cut I can't see how the numbers will work under the cap.

As part of a broader picture of where the Warriors are going in terms of player retention and management strategty - check out this article from the herald. Includes a useful list of players who will be off contract at the end of this year.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Warriors Selection Speculation

I arrived back in London yesterday afternoon and have now just about completed my first day back at work. Time change is a weird experience and I woke up this morning at 4.30am. London started off bad this morning with pouring rain as I walked to the tube stop but has now cleared and doesn't seem as cold or dark so at least that is something. New Zealand seems like another dimension of reality sitting back here and considering the distances involved it really is in some ways.

Anyway enough about me - we are really closing in on the commencement of Cleary Year II with ten days till kick off and I simply cannot wait. I am developing a real sense of anticipation about this Warriors squad - I think they have real depth in the finesse positions together with a typically strong forward pack. When the injured players such as Wairangi Koopu return they will be even stronger.

If people would like to start posting their suggested starting thirteen for round 1 that would be cool. Remeber you don't need to register or give your name to comment just say what you like anonymously if you wish.

I think my choices would be as follows - but bearing in mind I didn't attend the trial game v the Bulldogs and there a number of new Australian players to consider I am more than willing to listen to argument on the issue. If Koopu was available I would definitely pick him as well. Also the question of whether Mannering should be played as a forward or a centre is open for discussion. I like him as a centre but Cleary seems to be using him as a forward lately.

1 McKinnon
2 Martin
3 Mannering
4 Hohaia
5 Vatuvei
6 Witt
7 Rovelli
8 Wiki
9 Fien
10 Price (c)
11 Swann
12 Luck
13 Anderson

Bench - Lauaki, Tuimavave, Ropati, Crockett/Kirk/Gatis (don't know - Australian utility back sub?)

For anyone with issues with league positional numbering check out this link.

Champions league knockout games tonight and tomorrow - most entertaining may well be the Liverpool v Barcelona clash tonight at Anfield with Liverpool currently up 2-1 on aggregate with 2 away goals - will be down to the final eight teams after this round. A repeat Man U treble is still a possiblity.

Finally if the Warriors even think of signing Wendall Sailor I will be deeply disturbed.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Warriors win big in trial vs Bulldogs

Very impressive win for the Warriors last night v the Dogs out at Albany 36-6. I could get very used to that type of scoreline. Was a full strength dogs side including Sonny Bill. Sounds like everyone made a contribution including a standout 50m try from new fullback Wade McKinnon.

Its my last day in NZ today - flying back to London via Singapore this afternoon. Has been a great trip and I leave full of confidence that Cleary Year II is going to be a massive year for the Warriors.

A big shoutout to all the peeps in Auckland and the Wellington crew, its was great to catch up with you all and hope you keep following the blog. Also a special shoutout to Dan who claims to check the blog at least every week - if not everyday - you are a model for all the other readers out there.

Other big NRL story of the day is Gasnier out for the season with a pectoral tear. I purchased another copy of Rugby League Week earlier on in the week and the whole issue was basically devoted to the decision to shift Gasnier from the centres into no. 6 - I guess that discussion is a total waste of space now. In bigger picture terms this may totally undermine the St G season and thereby bring the Warriors another step closer to an elusive top four spot.

See you all back in London soon as we zero in on NRL Round 1 2007.