Chris Rattue: Auckland footy disaster rolls on - Blues pitiful, Warriors a looming joke

Author
Chris Rattue, NZ Herald,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Sunday, 8 July 2018, 8:07PM
"The Blues are in a pitiful state under Tana Umaga" (Image / PhotoSport)
"The Blues are in a pitiful state under Tana Umaga" (Image / PhotoSport)

A brilliant football World Cup, improved further by clunky Russia's quarter-final elimination, is Auckland rugby and league's best friend for now.

This has been an exceptional World Cup tournament in Russia. Of all the contenders, only Belgium would claim with certainty to be fielding their best-ever team, the other top sides short of their standard-setters.

But when it comes to goals, drama, stadium atmosphere, end-to-end action, the rise of lesser football powers — in style, it has been a sort of Glasnost moment for the world tournament compared to more cynical predecessors.

Exceptional players like Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne and Croatia's Luka Modrić exude a skilful joy for the game, even under intense pressure.

But Auckland's footy failures will be back on centre stage soon, have no fear.

You don't always have to be the best team to win a tournament, but quality or a lack of will be exposed in regular competitions.

The Blues and Warriors were crash landing under the radar this weekend while the Russian extravaganza provided the cover-up.

The Blues are in a pitiful state under Tana Umaga. Truly pitiful. The Hurricanes wanted to rediscover their mojo on Saturday night, and the Blues sent it via fast post, gift wrapped.

The idea that Umaga can coach them for another season is beyond comprehension.

People say the problem is bigger than Umaga, and it may be, but I would strongly disagree with that inference as well. The sum of the parts in that squad is far greater than what Umaga has produced.

His team play without consistent belief, pattern, pride, cohesion...or even being in their correct positions.

Rieko Ioane is to second five-eighths what Vladimir Putin is to charity work. Ngani Laumape turned the world's number one wing into a midfield fool by comparison.

And wasn't that a fullback named Michael Collins wearing the number 13 jersey, as the Hurricanes sent Umaga's Frankenstein crashing again?

The Warriors were no better and maybe even worse, their players apparently deluded into believing they only need to turn up to stay in the playoff dogfight.

How a team capable of playing this badly remains in the top eight with such a good buffer is an increasing NRL history mystery.

When faced with the best quality opponents this year, these Warriors have invariably given up. Their lack of effort against Penrith — a team depleted by representative commitments — was disgraceful.

Peta Hiku is a contender for worst NRL defender ever, and coach Stephen Kearney's faith in him as a centre finally got what was coming on Friday night.

Hiku is quite a big bloke, but opponents have shoved him off all year. He approaches tackles with the sort of enthusiasm most people display when ringing the tax department.

Meanwhile Shaun Johnson, the NRL's number one flat track bully, was embarrassed by a wide-eyed kid named Jarome Luai, who doesn't even have a contract, let alone a million-a-year deal like SJ.

Not that Johnson was getting much of a platform to work from, or help from his outsides. He deserved a bit of sympathy, but the Warriors superstar doesn't extract the right stuff from his team, or himself, under duress.

While the pedestrian Hiku was missing tackles all over the place, it was his failure to get near a long Johnson pass, and the look on Johnson's face at Hiku's no-show, which told the story in Penrith.

As the Panthers weathered the early Warriors storm, then delivered a serious return of serve, it must have been obvious to Kearney and club boss Cameron George that the arrival of Dragons forward Leeson Ah Mau next year is merely a starting point in resurrecting this club.

Kearney is in the rather extraordinary position of being a surprise success skating at some speed towards thin ice.

Having now seen one ridiculous capitulation too many, and being left absolutely baffled by Hiku's continued employment as a turnstile which spins quicker by the week, questions must be asked about Kearney's credentials.

There were some sensational Kiwi performances, for the Panthers that is, I think. It is hard to keep up with international allegiances these days. There almost needs to be a new computer app which declares every NRL player's country of choice, updated by the hour.

The Warriors have plenty of internationals, with an undeniable talent for all bombing at once.

Those shaking their heads at the limp displays against the Storm, Roosters, Rabbitohs and now Panthers (average score 37-6) will soon be shaking their fists.

What is it with Auckland football, a morass of disappointment and incompetence?

The Blues are almost beyond a joke, into a place where no one cares anymore. The Warriors — after a wonderful start in 2018 — are in danger of becoming a punching bag and punch line as well.

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