Patrick Herbert - was that the best Warriors NRL debut ever?

By Te Ao - Māori News

OK, so the Warriors lost to the Storm last night – but it’s unlikely many would’ve predicted that it would only be one point. Fewer still would have said that it would go down as one of their best defensive performances in a long time, and that it would be on the back of a guy playing in his debut first grade game.

But if you didn’t know who Patrick Herbert was before last night, you do now. The 22-year-old from Whakatane put in a 17-tackle shift in the Warriors’ 13-12 loss to the Storm in Melbourne in the two sides’ annual Anzac Day clash, and drew praise from even the notoriously biased Australian TV commentators.

It’s the second successful entry into the big time by a new Warriors signing this season, after Adam Keighran’s 16 point game in round one. But while that game was against the lowly Bulldogs, Herbert faced the top-of-table and reigning NRL premiers on their home patch.

Herbert, who was called in as a late replacement for Solomone Kata this week, has spent the beginning of the 2019 season with the Warriors’ Canterbury Cup NSW (reserve grade) side. The centre signed with the club after having an impressive season for the St George-Illawarra reserves last year, but found his path blocked to first grade in Sydney blocked by a stacked Dragons backline containing the likes of Tim Lafai, Euan Aiken and Matt Dufty.

So far this season, he’s scored four tries for the Canterbury Cup side, including two in the space of five minutes against Penrith that snatched a late win in round four.

After growing up in Whakatane, Herbert was schoolboy rugby union star whose talent was too good for the powerful St Kentigern College 1st XV in Auckland to ignore. The school, which has an often notorious reputation for drawing in some of the best talent from around the country, elevated Herbert’s status far enough that he was attracting interest from NZ Super Rugby sides. However, he signed with the Dragons in 2015 and has spent the last three seasons trying to crack into the NRL. He was selected for the Junior Kiwis in 2016 and 2017.

For the Warriors, a stunning game like that means it was worth the wait. It will also probably be giving the man he replaced a reason to look over his shoulder. Kata’s defensive frailties have been a serious criticism of his game since his debut in 2015, but his 46 tries in 93 appearances have seen him become one of the club’s highest profile players.

Ironically, after a very challenging week in which the Warriors were written off by everybody and then threw in a confusing line up change late in the piece, the loss to the Storm will be one of the few that won’t be met with a serious public and media backlash. Defensive efforts like the one last night deserve respect, and long-suffering Warriors fans will be hoping this is the start of a new attitude in an up and down 2019 season so far.