In captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s words, Kieran Foran strutted out onto Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday afternoon and “showed everyone he is the man”.
Foran’s incredible display after over 300 days without playing an NRL match was certainly one to gladden the hearts of rugby league fans, but it wasn’t why the Warriors won. A seismic shift in attitude enabled the Warriors to come back from a 10-point half time deficit for the first time since the 2011 semi-final victory over the Tigers.
A lot of murky water has flowed under a deeply unstable bridge since the Warriors displayed enough ticker to come back when the chips have been down double digits at the mid-point of a match.
Foran was most certainly the catalyst. There has been plenty of chatter about the Warriors’ finally fielding their much-vaunted all-Kiwis spine, and there was no doubt Foran provided some long-absent backbone. But it was a collective effort – inspired largely by an oft unjustly maligned forward pack – that laid the platform for Sunday’s comeback.
The Warriors won nearly every collision in the second half, smashing the Titans out of the match. Issac Luke was particularly abrasive, followed closely by Sam Lisone, Charlie Gubb and Jacob Lillyman.
There were times when the wobbles could easily have returned, however the Warriors kept their shoulders to the wheel. Foran’s unstinting presence most surely aided that.
“It was a challenge to be overcome,” Tuivasa-Sheck said of the team’s half-time predicament. Very true. But the 12-22 deficit was also a hole dug by a Warriors team that is still undergoing an attitude rehabilitation. For 40 minutes a Titans team with just one win to its name and a host of star players out injured looked like the most potent attacking force on the planet.
Kane Elgy and Ash Taylor are gifted young halves, but they aren’t as gifted as the Warriors allowed them to look. They also aren’t as bad as the Warriors made them look in the second half; it’s just not easy to play when you’re getting smashed to pieces in nearly every tackle. And that was the great lesson for the Warriors – they are good enough to keep teams to nil. They do possess the ability to grind. They don’t have to give up when things go against them.
Sunday afternoon was the starting point, but the signs have been there from the outset this season.
In round one they overcame a serious bout of stage fright to defeat a Knights team that isn’t as bad as many thought. They were outclassed by the undefeated Storm in round two, but aren’t alone there. They had a decent dig against the Bulldogs but couldn’t finish the job, and avoided what could have been a nasty towelling by the in-form Dragons when they lost Foran in the warm-up.
Sunday afternoon, though, was the tipping point. Had the first-half effort been allowed to stand, the season would have been as good as over. Even a meritorious fightback that ended in defeat would not have been enough. There’s still a long, long way to go, but a win was the only result that was acceptable – and the Warriors finally played like it.