Now is Fo­ran’s time to lead the War­riors

The Southland Times - - SPORT - HAMISH BIDWELL

OPIN­ION: For­give me. I wrote, per­haps with a hint of sar­casm, that the War­riors would be fourth in the NRL by now.

In­stead the State of Ori­gin pe­riod - for so long the club’s great­est source of com­pe­ti­tion points - has passed without the War­riors even be­ing able to crack the top-eight. Fri­day’s 34-22 loss to Pen­rith leaves the War­riors 11th with the Cow­boys, Sharks, Knights, Raiders, Rab­bitohs, Sea Ea­gles and Tigers left to play.

Let’s dwell on the Pan­thers re­sult. No-one likes to see peo­ple get in­jured so what hap­pened to Shaun John­son was a shame. But, with the best will in the world, the half­back was tak­ing the War­riors nowhere this year.

John­son’s tal­ent is not in ques­tion, but it’s not yield­ing the re­sults you’d ex­pect from a player of his stand­ing and seven-fig­ure con­tract ex­ten­sion.

If John­son’s sea­son is over, then it’s not too late for Kieran Fo­ran to try and mould the team in his im­age. If they can play straight and play tough, then sneak­ing into the play­offs isn’t be­yond them.

For now, though, the Fo­ran sign­ing has not paid the div­i­dends that many hoped for or pre­dicted.

A low-key exit

Good on the War­riors for re­nam­ing their sta­dium in Manu Vatu­vei’s hon­our for a night and per­form­ing a haka for him, at full­time in the Pan­thers’ game. But ac­tu­ally win­ning the match might’ve been a greater show of re­spect. Un­like in Bris­bane Queens­land’s 22-6 win over New South Wales, in the State of Ori­gin de­cider, was sweet on a va­ri­ety of lev­els.

The Blues’ an­nual post­series witch hunt never gets old and this one has been es­pe­cially hi­lar­i­ous. An­drew Johns and Brad Fit­tler are gen­uine Ori­gin greats, just maybe not the dream coach­ing team their be­lea­guered state are af­ter. Would’ve been a beaut cou­ple of bond­ing nights, though, as many have said al­ready.

While NSW con­tin­u­ally epit­o­mise the phrase paral­y­sis by anal­y­sis, Queens­land qui­etly go about the busi­ness of win­ning. And cel­e­brat­ing the con­tri­bu­tion of their finest.

Johnathan Thurston would’ve been bit­terly dis­ap­pointed not to see out his last State of Ori­gin se­ries. But the team’s per­for­mance in game three and the way cap­tain Cameron Smith paid trib­ute to Thurston af­ter­wards spoke vol­umes of the es­teem in which he’s held. Back in club land You can be a bad team and still per­form cred­itably. The Knights and Tigers might oc­cupy the last two rungs on the com­pe­ti­tion lad­der, but they con­tinue to have a dig and con­tinue to make them­selves hard to beat. The War­riors, for ex­am­ple, could learn a lit­tle from that.

Sec­ond-placed Manly made heavy weather of beat­ing the Tigers on Sun­day, de­spite sen­sa­tional sec­ond-half tries to Akuila Uate and Jake Tr­bo­je­vic, while the Bron­cos (in 4th) also bat­tled to sub­due the Knights.

The Thurston-less Cow­boys are in­ter­est­ing. They beat Souths 23-10 and now face the War­riors. For the time be­ing, the ballplay­ing axis of Jake Granville, Michael Mor­gan and Lach­lan Coote seem to be cop­ing ad­mirably and you won­der how deep into the fi­nals they might get.

Cronulla got an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic touch-up, los­ing 30-10 to the Ti­tans on a rain­lashed Gold Coast. The Bron­cos - in 1997 and 1998, if you count Su­per League or 1992 and 1993 if you don’t - are the last club to win back-to-back pre­mier­ships, but the Sharks are still mount­ing a for­mi­da­ble ti­tle de­fence.

PHOTO: AN­THONY AU-YE­UNG/GETTY IM­AGES.

Depart­ing War­riors wing Manu Vatu­vei re­ceives a haka from his team-mates.

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