FRESH OUT OF EXCUSES
Injuries and youth can’t explain the star-studded Warriors’ awful season
ANDREW McFADDEN ADMITS THE WARRIORS found out a lot about themselves when the going got tough this year – and it wasn’t pretty. With four rounds left, the Warriors were well placed to make the finals, with three of their final four matches at home, and most against opponents with nothing to play for. But the Auckland boys folded like a cheap tent, losing all four to finish out of the finals once again. After losing their last eight games the previous season, it was a clear sign that McFadden’s team lacked that something special to be able to produce the goods under pressure.
“It was probably our best chance to make the finals in my time at the club and we blew it,” McFadden admits. “In times of adversity, you find out about people and we found out we weren’t up to it, sadly.
“We learned some hard lessons about resilience in that last month of the season.
“At the business end of the season, the good teams go up a gear. You have to be able to go up with them – clearly, we couldn’t.
“We let ourselves down after a good patch in the middle of the season when we put together 10 pretty good games to get ourselves in a position to make the finals after a poor start.
“Our completion rate was 80 per cent for a while, which is what you’re looking for. By the end of the year that had dropped to around 60 per cent and that just killed us.
“Last year we had some excuses with injury and having to play young kids out of position.
“This year we didn’t have those excuses . . . we just didn’t rise to the occasion when it mattered.”
The Warriors’ fall from grace cost McFadden his job for next season but in a ground-breaking move by the club, he’ll stay on as assistant to incoming coach Stephen Kearney.
“It’s a tough business but I’m comfortable with my future and my role at the club,” he says.
“I’ve spoken to Stephen and I’m confident we can work well together.”
McFadden believes the Warriors have the basis of a solid finals challenge for 2017 after years in the wilderness.
“This year we had a lot of player turnover and it took us a while to find our feet,” he says. “Next season we’ll have a very similar team to this year but they’ll be more experienced and hopefully handle the hard times better.
“I was really pleased with our second-year players – guys like Solomone Kata, Sam Lisone and Albert Vete handled themselves well.
“We also got to see a lot of David Fusitua, finally, after some bad injuries in recent years, and he confirmed what a special talent he is.”
Massive things were expected of the Warriors after the signing of superstars Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke over the summer. But Tuivasa-Sheck suffered a season-ending knee injury just when he looked to be finding his feet in Auckland and Luke was a major disappointment.
“Roger’s loss hurt us without doubt and we missed him,” says McFadden [left].
“As for Issac, he didn’t come to us in the best shape and started slowly. Then he suffered a knee injury at a key stage of the season. But he finished the year strongly and I was happy with that – I can see him being a key man for us next year.”
Coming back from a badly broken ankle that cut short his 2015 season, Shaun Johnson played every game, but if anything the team relied too heavily on his brilliance to get them out of tough games.
The Warriors had stability in their line-up – 10 players played 20 games or more – but looking back, that may have been a bad thing.
McFadden was too tolerant with players who failed to produce the goods, selecting them again and again on reputation at times when the critics were saying the team needed a shake-up.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I’m comfortable with the decisions I made,” McFadden counters.
“At the end of the day, we just couldn’t come up with the goods when it mattered most and we all have to take responsibility for that and step up next year.”