Rugby League headed west for an opening round doubleheader and the Warriors vs. Rabbitohs didn’t disappoint. In a free-flowing game of attacking football, the new look Warriors were sharp and showed enough to suggest that 2018 may finally be the year they get things right on the park.
The 32-20 upset win was a huge show of strength from the Auckland based club. 1996 was the first year the Warriors played in Perth and in that time they’ve had nothing to show for it – remaining winless in the west. Here are the five key talking points from a record-breaking game for the Kiwi club:
1. Young gun leads the way
Mention the name Papali’i and you’re most likely to think of Canberra Raiders back-rower Josh, however, there was an even more impressive Papali’i taking the field in Perth on Saturday. With a pack that included Kiwi internationals Tohu Harris and Adam Blair you could have been forgiven for overlooking Warriors second-rower Isaiah Papali’i.
With only five first grade appearances to his name and most of those coming off the bench, 19-year-old Papali’i had some huge shoes to fill. The absence of Simon Mannering due to a shoulder niggle placed a lot of pressure on the youngster and he more than delivered. Papali’i terrorised the Rabbitohs right side defence with five tackle busts and looked dangerous every time he had the ball in hand. It was just reward for Papali’i when the hulking back-rower crashed over for a try in the 15th minute off the back of a Shaun Johnson bomb. Mannering looks set to return next week but based on Papali’i’s Round 1 performance, the Warriors simply must make space for this boom rookie in their run-on side.
2. An attacking masterclass
This matchup has historically been a high-scoring affair and the 2018 version certainly didn’t disappoint. In the past five editions, this clash has produced an average of 51 points and the Bunnies and Warriors didn’t let up for the latest instalment. While Stephen Kearney and Anthony Seibold won’t be happy with the defensive efforts from their sides, it made for an entertaining clash from a neutral’s perspective.
The first half ebbed and flowed with both sides trading blows early. With some flashy ball movement and sweeping backline plays, it was the wingers that really cashed in. Richie Kennar bagged a double for the Rabbitohs while for the Warriors, Ken Maumalo crossed the white stripe and Fusitu’a grabbed a double.
3. GI back without the bang
The long-awaited return of Greg Inglis passed without so much of bang. For his first full game in over 370 days, Rabbitohs staff would have been happy enough that Inglis made it through unscathed however, he had no real impact in this one.
Inglis shifted to left centre to accommodate Alex Johnston in the fullback role, but it was a move that never really delivered. Johnston was outpointed by his opposing fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, and this was no more evident than the try-saver Tuivasa-Sheck pulled off on Johnston in the opening minutes. The bigger and stronger Warriors fullback monstered Johnston to prevent what looked a certain try. That tackle was a taste of things to come as Tuivasa-Sheck and his Warriors teammates put in a strong defensive showing. The Rabbitohs play their best footy with Inglis running the ball out from the back so if they hope to be competitive this season, he’ll need to take the number one jersey sooner rather than later.
4. On to Greener pastures
The Warriors looked sharp in this match and a lot of that was to do with their halves combination firing. The addition of five-eighth Blake Green from Manly looks to be the making of the Warriors this year. His inclusion and game management freed Shaun Johnson to play off the cusp, running-football.
Johnson had a huge game at halfback with two line breaks, four tackle breaks and a try assist to his name. He had the measure of South Sydney’s defence every time he elected to run the ball and so much of that was to do with his halves partner – Green. The journeyman five-eighth looked composed in his Warriors debut, providing direction and finesse when needed. His lay off to Sam Lisone for the Warriors third try highlighted the much-needed subtlety that Green will bring to the Warriors gameplay.
5. Perth expansion on the cards?
It was a superb crowd for the first ever game of rugby league at the newly opened Perth Stadium. 38,884 fans piled in to watch the Saturday doubleheader which would have had the bosses at league HQ beaming. With expansion back on the table, the NRL could do worse than entertain a bid from the west. The loss of Super Rugby team the Western Force has Perth crying out for live footy and it would be a cheeky, if not strategic play for the NRL to muscle in and provide the west with a league team to call their own – watch this space.
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