The lifeline offered to Kieran Foran by NZ Warriors chief executive Jim Doyle looks set to pay a rich dividend after his well-documented troubles and suicide attempt when living in Australia last year.
Not that his presence will automatically guarantee the Warriors a top eight playoff spot. But judging from his debut performance in Sunday’s 28-22 win against the Gold Coast Titans, he offers a tactical brain and leadership role the side badly lacked.
Foran’s presence will also lift a huge weight from scrum half Shaun Johnson’s shoulders after the responsibilities of Johnson’s solo playmaking role curbed much of his instinctive brilliance as a fast and elusive runner.
Johnson can be a frustrating player whose failure to develop the playmaking skills and tactical kicking excellence of a Cooper Kronk or Jonathan Thurston has copped criticism from Australian greats Andrew Johns and Laurie Daley.
But he has always been honest in admitting his faults, without laying blame on team-mates who have failed to give him the backing he deserves.
Foran, both smart and tough, reads the game beautifully and is capable of utilising the try-scoring speed of Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck by putting them through gaps with his beautifully timed draw and pass game.
Sunday’s performance against the Titans was an impressive club debut for a player who was understandably nervous and asked fans not to expect too much.
He could also return to Australia where his two young sons and separated partner live after completing his one-year contract.
But for as long as he is here, the Warriors would do well to make a point of learning from him. Especially guys like Solomone Kata and Dave Fusitu’u who need to develop their passing skills to complement their power and pace if they are to become top centres.
As a tackler, Foran will be to his backline what Simon Mannering is to the forwards, a much needed defensive asset within a team that leaks too many easy tries.
Meanwhile, Canterbury lead the Super Rugby roost with six straight wins, the latest a 41-22 romp against the Waratahs in Sydney despite the absence of Kieran Read and the injured Israel Dagg and Seta Tamanivalu.
Their backup has been impressive with Tim Bateman forming a strong midfield partnership with Ryan Crotty and new chums Whetu Douglas, Bryn Hall, Mitch Hunt and George Bridge slotting in to the manner born.
Especially impressive has been the Crusaders ability to offload and back up no matter how much pressure they are put under. It’s a credit to new coach Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson who is having more success than former mentor Todd Blackadder had.
However the competition remains a farce with the current system allowing the Brumbies to currently lead the Australian conference and be placed fourth overall with 11 points behind the Crusaders 26, Lions 23 and Stormers 22.
Completing the top 10 are the Chiefs 24, Hurricanes 20, Jaguares and Sharks 18, Blues 15, and Highlanders 14.
The Blues will take encouragement from their 24-18 win against the Force but will be wary going into Saturday night’s Dunedin clash against the Highlanders after the host’s 51-12 thrashing of the Rebels.
Locals will also have enjoyed the sight of former Pakuranga centre Malakai Fekitoa capping a strong game for the Highlanders with two tries.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author