Durkin: Head west not east to expand
THE recent free-for-all concerning NRL expansion and the speculated relocation of Sydney teams has failed to address one critical issue - the abject failure of the New Zealand Warriors.
Heading into Friday night's clash against the winless Titans in Auckland, surely serious questions need to be asked about their worth to what is tagged a national competition.
This is their 25th season and during that tenure they have barely raised a threatening yelp.
Okay, I understand the important role the Kiwis play in the international game. And I fully appreciate the probable ramifications if they are no longer provided a platform for their players to compete in the strongest competition the game offers.
But from a purely selfish point of view - and the NRL has every right to operate on that basis - what are the Warriors offering the competition? If last week's pathetic showing in Christchurch is a yardstick, then they are little better than a punching bag.
In my brief pre-season assessment of the Warriors, I wrote their prospects of a repeat of last year's finals appearance was lean.
'No Mannering, no soul, no Johnson, no spark,' I surmised.
Then, in Round 1, they hammered the Bulldogs 40-6 and looked world-beaters. Egg on face duly accepted.
But in the past two weeks the unreliable Warriors of old have re-emerged, conceding 80 points and - from a team fielding 14 internationals - showing scant physical resistance. Big, muscly bodies on the line were not evident.
And what made this inept performance even more disturbing was the circumstances surrounding the match.
This was the first major sporting event in Christchurch since the shooting tragedy two weeks earlier, and no doubt the city was hoping - and expecting - a strong message of support from one of their national teams.
What they were given was 41 missed tackles in an 80-minute performance coach Steve Kearney rightly described as unacceptable.
While the Warriors are capable - and more than likely - to blast the Titans off the park on Friday night, their 25-year history is littered with sub-standard form.
Since being invited into the NRL they have played finals only eight times - a horror record for a club with a treasure trove of talent from which to draw.
Admittedly New Zealand and the surrounding Pacific Islands are systematically plundered by league and union scouts worldwide, but the nation's only NRL club would be expected to have its finger on the prolific talent-base pulse.
And with judicious scouting, Kiwi fans should rightly expect their only NRL team at least be competitive, week in week out.
But after 25 years, and 11 different coaches, consistency and the Warriors have never been bedfellows.
Yet while long-established clubs like Manly, Cronulla and Canterbury - as well as the recently conjoined Wests Tigers - are targeted as potential relocators, the Warriors have seemingly escaped the blowtorch.
If the NRL is serious about expansion, about growing the game in Australia and genuine in becoming a truly national entity, maybe looking west is better than staying far east.