This Warriors season seems to be shaping up as a disaster, but still has a way to go before it’s officially worse than 2004, writes Andrew Mulligan.
When you lose an NRL game 42-0, it’s bad. When you have to discipline six players for getting so hammered they couldn’t crawl out of bed, pop a few Nurofens, and front a team meeting about the loss, it’s really bad.
I went to a product launch for a family member in Sydney this week and one of the invitees was a high-profile league player who they are mates with. The player declined to come because he’s injured and didn’t want to antagonise fans by being snapped in the media while he’s resting and rehabbing, even though he probably has the trust of the coaches and management. That’s how this works in the NRL – you have to be accountable – and in Sydney where the media is more intrusive and there are eight clubs to report on, you have to be careful. Auckland is more sheltered, but it’s still very telling that those players felt like going out in the most notorious and high profile club district in the country was a good thing to do in the days following that loss.
As a result this Warriors season is looking ominously like 26 more weeks of emotional torture for the team’s already sad fans. All the key players are saying the right things – Ryan Hoffman, Shaun Johnson, Thomas Leuluai – but there seems to be a lack of intensity and intention to play both sides of the ball. A defensive lapse is okay. A defensive surrender in what should have been a statement game in Melbourne suggests a malaise in the side; a lack of motivation to take on board what the coaches are saying and implementing a game plan.
But is this the worst Warriors season ever? No. And that in itself is terrible.
I like to look post-Super Leagueapolooza when assessing these things, and I cast my mind back to the 2004 season. Just 18 months removed from the NRL Grand Final, the Warriors transformed into a dumpster fire of such concentration and intensity that it threatened to consume Auckland.
They started the season under the stewardship of Daniel Anderson – the short-tempered coach who called out Ali Lauitiiti and sent him packing to Super League. Anderson left in June, and the team limped to six wins. The nadir came in the form of a 50-4 pasting by the Wests Tigers in Christchurch. That was the most depressing game of many. A paltry 6,391 turned up in July to watch the Warriors record a rare win over Parramatta. The team would close out the season with a six game losing streak, which though bad, pales in comparison to last year’s eight-game avalanche of losing.
Having said that, this season has the potential to eclipse even 2004. The team’s shot at doing so rests largely on the fact expectations were so high going in. The signing of Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke, along with a healthy return from injury for Johnson meant the Warriors were justifiably being talked about as title contenders. So the season’s combination of nightmareish injuries and awful on-field form was already deeply troubling. This week’s addition of ill-discipline and late nights – leading to one of the most highly-paid reserve grade teams in history turning out this weekend – has us on pace to beat 2004. What we need to do from here to cement that status would involve:
- Firing the coach and recruiting a less-than-ideal replacement
- Losing another key player to major injury
- A star player (Johnson, Matulino or Luke) forcing an exit somehow
- Another epic losing streak killing the Mt Smart crowds
- A club stalwart – Butch, Vodafone, Eric Watson – publicly ditching the team
- Some form of mild pandemic. A new type of avian flu, say, isolated to the club
Complete all or most of that and the team will comfortably take the mantle of ‘worst Warriors season ever’. The team is in a hole and, if they don’t start holding themselves more accountable, this season could easily spiral out of control. It could even become the worst. Worse than 2004. Then maybe 2016 will be the season we tell our grandchildren about…