Warriors to play with more freedom

Adam Blair. Photo: Getty Images
Adam Blair. Photo: Getty Images
Player power has come to Mt Smart, with the Warriors squad petitioning the coaches for changes to the way they play.

Stephen Kearney and his staff have listened, resulting in a re-shaping of the game model, with the players to be given more licence to express themselves in 2020.

Senior Warriors forward Adam Blair said the playing group had concerns late last season about their game plan, and were collectively able to voice those opinions during the review period in September.

Their feedback has resulted in substantial change, which will hopefully manifest in positive ways when the NRL starts next month.

"It was the back end of last year," said Blair. "We recognised it late in the season but by then it was a bit too late to change. We sat down as a playing group, put it forward to the coaches and [they] really actioned what we wanted, so credit to them."

Blair said doubts about the style they were being asked to play began to creep in during the final two months of the season.

"It was most probably after some tough losses," said Blair. "Those are the ones when you think about if the game plan is actually working. We realised a lot more when we played our last game, that may have been the one that opened our eyes and our coaches' eyes to a lot of things."

That round 25 match in Canberra might become a template, though it was a strange set of circumstances.

The Raiders chose to rest some first choice players ahead of the finals, but the Warriors were missing some top liners too, and lost David Fusitu'a during the captain's run.

But they played with freedom, flair and ferocity, and came back from 10 points down to beat the eventual grand finalists 24-20.

"We didn't change too much, we just went out there and played what suited our group of players," said Blair. "That may have triggered a point for the players and the coaches. We have those kind of players. Why not play that way ... as long as you can back it up defensively?"

That victory was the impetus for the players to have their say, both in the formal feedback sessions and during meetings of the playing group.

"Everyone was a part of it ... not only the leaders," said Blair. "We all sat down together, spoke about what worked and what needs to change and they sat down over the break and actioned it in November."

Kearney said he was impressed with the proactive stance taken by the players, but emphasised that the feedback loop went across the board.

"It was listening to the collective group, right across the whole footy department and taking on board what we needed to get better," said Kearney. "It was mostly about our game model and training accordingly, to complement that game model.

"In a footy club you need to take on board all feedback. I've got no problems in making some adjustments but the players need to have an awareness that there's an expectation from [the coaches'] point of view if we make those adjustments."

Last year the Warriors emphasised a grinding, basic style, built around achieving field position and limiting mistakes. But their attack became predictable and one dimensional and lacked punch, which in turn put more pressure on the defensive side of their game, and neither worked optimally.

Both Blair and Kearney agreed that the work on the training field had been positive, but the true test will come next March.

The Warriors Nines squad depart for Perth on Wednesday, ahead of the tournament which starts on Friday evening (NZT).

The team with be captained by 21-year-old Isaiah Papali'i and features a mix of established talent (Blake Green, Ken Maumalo, Leeson Ah Mau) along with young talents (Paul Turner, Chanel Harris-Tavita and Selesitino Ravutaumada).

Rocco Berry, son of former All Black Marty, will also make his first official appearance in Warriors colours.

The Warriors open their campaign against the Newcastle Knights on Friday (9.55pm NZT).

Their second and final pool match is against the Sydney Roosters on Saturday (4.35pm NZT).

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