General 48 hours: Part of the problem & solution

sebastian_old

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48 hours: Part of the problem and the solution

Monday August 7, 2006
By Chris Rattue


The Warriors eked out a merit-filled victory over Cronulla yet it was still hard to find much cheer at Mt Smart Stadium.

It was a grim night, weather-wise, and it was also difficult to find reasons for sunny, long-term forecasts for the Warriors on the football front.

Long before the ball found its way into the hands of testimonial recipient Awen Guttenbeil in the last play of the night, it was as plain as the rain why the club would be so forgiving of Sione Faumuina's various transgressions.

Sport is a pragmatic business and as much as the Warriors are right to build their new house on foundations of solid character, they - like every other professional outfit in the world - will find the necessary loopholes to keep talent in the yard.

Saturday was not a great night to conduct exhaustive attacking-football inquiries. The rain bucketed down, the field was sloshy, so hanging on to the ball and avoiding dalliances with the sideline became paramount.

Even still, the droplets of evidence were that the Warriors had powerful ball runners, a few high-workrate forwards, the odd jink in their halves, and no major ballplayer.

And this is why Faumuina, who is absent right now with a wrist injury, remains essential.

Take out departing fullback Brent Webb, one of the best linebreakers in the NRL, and there is a growing predictability to the Warriors that will not have escaped coach Ivan Cleary's attention.

Loyal trench troops will get a team so far, but you also need a few cannons, even if they must be loose. And a pop-gun Faumuina is not.

While the risks can sometimes be too high, Faumuina is the most obviously creative of the Warriors squad because he is prepared and able to risk defence-splitting passes and thrives on keeping the ball alive.

In playing terms, he is the one Warriors player who comes in the best creative traditions of league in this land.

The major problem for Faumuina is this: he is still struggling to come to terms with the concept that a beer in his hand makes everyone else want to head for the bush.

By all eyewitness accounts, his behaviour at the Guttenbeil testimonial lunch was appalling, with coach Ivan Cleary, teammate and Kiwi captain Ruben Wiki and national coach Brian McClennan among those to be the subject of his outlandishly angry words.

An ill wind blew through the dinner, before Faumuina stormed away. This is not the first such problem he has caused.

And yet his utterances via a Sunday newspaper yesterday were still of a man trying to find others to blame, having not truly accepted his very full contribution to the problem.

In the aftermath of the dinner fiasco Faumuina, maybe in a state of panic, wanted out.

Club and player have since made up, although he still has personal bridges to mend.

The message the Warriors should be sending to Faumuina is that they need him, but that he also needs to deal with his problem. It's in his best interest and theirs, although a difficult task for a young man who operates under the pressure of public expectation and glare.

As the Warriors fade into the distance this season, despite Saturday night's hard-fought win, pragmatism might even suggest that the publicity surrounding Faumuina at least kept the club in the headlines.

But you sense that the fans have grown wary and weary of the shenanigans in this club.

A city that was once deemed the hottest league ticket in the game is now a dead zone.

According to the official NRL figures, the Warriors have the lowest average home crowd in the competition - 9200 (second-worst are runaway leaders Melbourne, which is testament to how much of a league outpost their city is).

Just 4800 turned up on an admittedly rough night to watch the Warriors play Cronulla, spurring a leading Australian league journalist and regular visitor to Mt Smart Stadium to remark: "What's wrong with this city, there's only 1200 people out there."

Which is what it looked like.

The Warriors are struggling to convince fans they can mix it with the best over a season, and they lack a compensating charm.

It is easy to relate to Graham Lowe's frustrations, expressed in a Herald column, over Faumuina's behaviour. But come on. It is laughable to intimate that wayward players are something new, that league might somehow once have been free of people with problems and divisive personalities.

Life doesn't work like that, and you could suggest with impunity that league has had more than its fair share of crazed characters.

For an example, look no further than one of the Warriors opponents on Saturday night. The flame-haired Lance Thompson has mixed a career as a tough NRL forward with a reputation of being a selfish knucklehead, and Thompson is never short of an employer.

You can rest assured that Lowe himself, going back to his days with Otahuhu, did not throw match-winning devils out the back door, as he suggests should occur with Faumuina.

Further more, there have been legions of well-behaved players who have let the Warriors down since 1995, and many weren't cheap either. At least Faumuina - to these eyes - plays for keeps, always looking for a way to break through.

While the Warriors mope around near the foot of the table, they will struggle to attract and/or keep players with the flair of Faumuina, who also has decent NRL miles on the clock. He is a man with a problem, not an evil-doer.

It is imperative that the Warriors can become playoff regulars, and hopefully in a style that reflects the footballing talent in this city, this country.

If sport is to present lessons, they should include that life is there to be turned around. Within the context of the current squad, Faumuina offers more hope than most. He is, for now, a highly visible part of the Warriors problem, but he could also be a big part of the solution.

High

Nothing springs to mind. From Mt Smart to Sydney's Olympic Stadium, and in much of the Air New Zealand Cup in between, a lot of very ordinary football was played over the weekend.

Low

See above.
 

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