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One small step for the Warriors, one giant snub from Australia

Steve Deane spent four hours trapped in rugby league punditry hell. Here's what he learned.

Prince William got married, Osama Bin Laden got shot, the US announced the war in Iraq was over (yes, really) and Samoa jumped across the international dateline. What a year 2011 was. Many of us remember it like it was just seven years ago.

Oh, how things haven’t really changed.

Unless you’re trying to call someone in Samoa at a specific time and date, in which case it is now a heck of a lot easier.

No, 2011 wasn’t really all that long ago. You couldn’t buy a quarter acre in Parnell for thruppence and it wasn’t still okay to harass members of the typing pool. But, to Warriors fans, it must indeed feel like an aeon has passed since that heady time, when the club last appeared in the NRL finals.

In 2011, the Warriors finished sixth on the NRL ladder, got smashed by Brisbane in the opening round of the finals, burgled a second life when the two teams below them (the Knights and Cowboys) both lost, then defeated the Tigers and Storm on the road to complete a remarkable journey to the Grand Final.

Though their season ended with defeat to Manly, hopes were high (and utterly misplaced) that a period of sustained success beckoned.

So much for that.

Now, though, thanks to a truly rare, workmanlike, comfortable and wonderfully dull victory over the Knights at Mt Smart on Friday night, the wait is over.

The Warriors are back in the finals, baby!

Okay, so they’re not. Not quite yet. But it would take a meltdown of spectacular proportions for the Warriors to drop out of the top eight from here. In seventh place, two points clear of the Broncos and four clear of the Tigers, the Warriors would likely sneak into eighth place even if they drop their last three matches. And that won’t happen. The club has a comfortable run home, with an away match against the limited and already eliminated Bulldogs followed by home matches against the Panthers and Raiders.

While a lot of things have changed in the last seven years, the Warriors failing to exist isn’t one of them. 

Meanwhile, the Broncos face the top two clubs, the Rabbitohs and Roosters, followed by a final round date with Manly.

Time to pop the champagne corks – and dip into the analysis of how a club tipped by many to finish stone cold motherless last engineered this revival, and assess their prospects of a decent playoff run.

Break it down for us Ben Ikin, and your cast of pundits, players and coaches that occupy Fox Sports’ wall-to-wall analysis shows every single night of the week.

Or don’t. Here’s what this column learned about the Warriors from ingesting four straight hours of expert analysis over Sunday and Monday nights, beamed into New Zealand via SKY TV:

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is a good player.

2. Billy Slater is the best fullback in the history of the game, and it was nice the Warriors decided to give him a guard of honour send-off in his last game at Mt Smart, something Aussie clubs are now emulating.

This last snippet was offered up by Sharks back rower Wade Graham when deflecting an errant bum pat from former team-mate Michael Ennis, who clearly had no clue the nice piece of sportsmanship had started at Warriors.

That’s because Ennis, just like the rest of Fox’s punditry army, has no idea the Warriors actually exist.

For its NRL coverage, Fox has adopted the successful ESPN model of choosing a couple of hot topics and then having them debated ad nauseam by a revolving cast of gibbering heads. It's the media equivalent of pack of seagulls at the beach squabbling over a discarded potato fritter. 

Should the Warriors push on and reach the Grand Final (not as preposterous a thought as it once was), there will be a mighty scramble by Fox’s researchers to figure out where the soggy potato fritter has come from.

Players not named Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck can expect a bunch of hard-hitting questions, like: “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

It’s possible that the Australian media’s total air swing on what is in fact a momentous moment for one of the NRL’s major market clubs is down to the seismic hullaballoo caused by Penrith sacking their coach Anthony Griffin, and attempting to convince Ivan Cleary to return.

Penrith’s mid-season approach to the coach they sacked in 2015 while he is still under contract to West Tigers has outraged many Australian pundits. The “unprecedented” move has torn at the fabric of the game. Some people have failed to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There is no longer any honour among thieves. The world as we know it no longer exists. It’s fallen off its axis, and things will be never be the same again.

This view, of course, rather ignores the fact that Clearly was still under contract at the Warriors when he was poached by Penrith in the first place way back in 2011, mid-season, around about the same time Osama Bin Laden got shot and Prince William tied the knot, as it happened.

That little detail hasn’t popped up in the Australian media’s exhaustive analysis because, while a lot of things have changed in the last seven years, the Warriors failing to exist isn’t one of them. 

The seats, and the gibbering heads on them, revolve, but the song remains indubitably the same.

Oh well. At least the war in Iraq is over.

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