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Set of Six: Are the Warriors the NRL's version of the Chicago Cubs?

Set of Six: Are the Warriors the NRL's version of the Chicago Cubs?
NZ Warriors: cursed? (Photo: Getty Images)

New Zealand’s rugby league club continues to exist in the shadow of a terrible curse, writes Jarret Filmer. Also: themed rounds, the rise of the Titans, Mitchell Moses and more.

Are the Warriors the NRL’s version of the Chicago Cubs?

Now that the Chicago Cubs have finally won a World Series and vanquished their century-long curse there is debate over who is now the most haunted team in professional sports. While a slew of teams including the Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Clippers can all lay claim to the title of the World’s Most Exasperating Sports franchise is it possible that the NRL’s New Zealand Warriors are another contender for the title? With the Sharks finally winning their maiden Premiership last year the Warriors are now the longest running club without a title and while the don’t have the same extended career of futility that some of the other international contenders possess they do a nice line in catastrophic failure.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes the Auckland-based side so exasperating to follow. The Warriors have been through umpteen coaching changes, playing rosters and management teams but still they produce the same erratic underachievement. At this point they might have produced more alternate jerseys than club victories. They even changed the name and the logo and still the mediocrity has endured. It’s quite possible that the club is in thrall of a potent curse, some powerful voodoo repeatedly cruelling their chances.

The Red Sox had the Curse of the Bambino, the Chicago Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat and the Detroit Lions have the curse of being from Detroit. The only thing the Warriors are missing is a snazzy name for whatever is ailing their club. Short of entombing the Mad Butcher in the Mt Smart in goal or conducting a wholesale exorcism of the entire club it’s difficult to know what will lift the hex. At the very least the Warriors could produce a special edition “voodoo” jersey, capitalizing on the only thing they have proved adept at during their two decades of futility.

Does the NRL do themed rounds for the right reason?

The NRL loves a themed round. Marvel Super Hero, ANZAC, Heritage, Women in League… A cynical interpretation would be to suggest that these rounds are a ploy to sell alternate jerseys and whitewash over some of the NRL’s more unsavoury elements with a feel-good attempt at connecting with the community. The Indigenous Round was obviously meaningful to those indigenous players involved, and the jerseys and pre-match entertainment were an affecting tribute to the traditions of Australia’s indigenous people. But with the continuing proliferations of such events, its right to question the NRL’s intent.

Perhaps the most egregious example of the NRL’s inability to resolve the conflict between its aspirations and its failings in the Women in League round. The NRL celebrates the vital role women play in the game by making players wear pink jerseys while failing to do anything conclusive about domestic violence committed by said players. It sends the message that women are worthy of respect unless they happen to be dating a league player who punches them in the eye or bullies them into having an abortion.

The NRL finds itself trapped between two competing interests – on the one hand they are at pains to portray themselves as a modern and inclusive sport, but in practice the sport continues to be dragged down by the anti-social actions of a few players with the game’s powerbrokers seemingly powerless to stop it. This weekend was a perfect example – the goodwill generated by the Indigenous Round was quickly dissipated by news that Wests Tigers half Luke Brooks was involved in an off-the-field brawl which was only surprising because Brooks plays more like a Backstreet Boy than a Street Fighter. Alternate jerseys are fine but alternate attitudes might actually make a difference – at this point the NRL’s themed rounds are the organizational equivalent of slapping a Greenpeace bumper sticker on an SUV.

Can the Titans make the finals after all?

The Gold Coast Titans might be languishing outside the eight but they are playing with the heart of a Premiership contender. The boys from the Glitter Strip managed to lay 38 points on the Melbourne Storm despite finishing the game with only fourteen healthy bodies, a remarkable feat given that the Storm can struggle to ship that many points in a month. Tongan international and human joy emoji Konrad Hurrell capped the Titans comeback with a try in the final minutes, sealing the improbable victory.

The Titans now have the Sea Eagles at home before an Origin bye. If they can back up Round 10’s Lazarus effort against Manly then they’ll be sitting on the cusp of the eight with a chance to get some troops healthy. Coach Neil Henry might not be happy with his team’s spot on the ladder but he will be overjoyed with their effort. It seems improbable but if the Gold Coast Titans can overcome their injury toll to make the finals it would be one of the great stories of the season.

Can we finally stop talking about Mitchell Moses?

The exodus of Moses is finally over, but instead of wandering the desert for 40 years he’ll be starting for Parramatta less than a week after lacing a boot for the Tigers. Now that this dreary saga has been mercifully concluded we can start worrying about whether Moses is actually any good and stop treating the whole exercise like a referendum on the petulance of the millennial footballer. Moses’ decision to force his way out in such a public fashion was an odd choice for a notoriously erratic footballer heading to a notoriously erratic club – his high profile mid-season departure will squarely focus the attention on his performance, especially given Corey Norman’s potentially lengthy injury absence. Moses will have nowhere to hide.

Meanwhile, Ivan Cleary continues his strong start to his stint in charge of Wests, decisively giving Moses the flick once his effort became questionable to preserve team unity and standards. With confirmation of the signing of Kiwis test prop Russell Packer to complement the previously announced acquisitions of Ben Matulino and Josh Reynolds, Cleary has done a nice job of rejuvenating a squad shorn of the alleged ‘Big Four’. If he continues to add further rumoured pieces such as Tuimoala Lolohea its quite possible that Tigers fans will be given good reason to forget Moses, Woods and Tedesco pretty quickly.

Have the Knights finally turned the corner?

The Newcastle Knights have already managed to double their win total from 2016, tipping over the erratic Raiders with a strong second half performance last weekend. Every Newcastle victory should be a source of joy for all die-hard league fans – the Knights represent one of rugby league’s great heartlands and the game is poorer when the Knights struggle. The Knights are building the right way, giving opportunities to local juniors and trying to sign high upside youngsters such as North Queensland’s Kalyn Ponga.

It’s a far cry from the Tinkler-Bennett era that saw club stalwarts ditched in favour of over-the-hill veterans in an attempt to snatch a Premiership in haste – moves that ultimately decimated the club culture and clogged up the salary cap for years to come. The Knights are making all the right moves and all neutral fans should be pulling for Newcastle – they won’t win many more this season but each victory will be another crucial step towards relevancy.

Match of the Round: Roosters vs Bulldogs

The best contest in the offing this weekend sees the Roosters face down the Bulldogs in the penultimate match of the round. The Dogs will be smarting after last Thursdays waxing at the hands of the Cowboys and will have had nearly ten days to plot the Chooks downfall. With the identity of the NSW halves still unknown Mitchell Pearce will be looking for the sort of performance that will erase some of the qualms about his previous Origin performances. Meanwhile a win for the Dogs means they will secure their spot in the eight and there might be something more to hope for than spending the rest of the season starting wistfully at a picture of Kieran Foran. Look for the Dogs to keep it messy and pull out a grubby win late.

PICKS (Last Week 4-4, Season Record 48-32): Sharks over Cowboys / Dragons over Warriors / Broncos over Tigers / Sea Eagles over Titans / Raiders over Eels / Panthers over Knights / Bulldogs over Roosters / Storm over Rabbitohs

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Set of Six: Are the Warriors the NRL's version of the Chicago Cubs?