The Warriors have kept their hopes of playing finals football afloat at the Sydney football stadium today, where they have beaten the Sydney Roosters, 30-24. After twenty-five minutes and down 18-6, it looked like their season was destined for a battle to avoid the wooden spoon. But, no, not this time. They fought back with some fine defence, and a attacking display, that, while not at their best, was a huge improvement on what they have produced over the previous two months.
For a five minute spell, early in the second half, The Warriors were forced to defend four sets of six on end. And, they did this with aplomb. This effort seemed to lift their confidence levels. After this, they gained momentum and looked to be in control.
Kicking early in sets to force Sydney City deep into their own half and dominate territory. Smart thinking. It was effective and forced The Roosters to use up energy getting out of their own half.
The Roosters opened the scoring in the 9th minute, after receiving a penalty, Frank Paul Nuasala charged for the Warriors goal line, managing to off-load to Willie Mason, who dived over despite the efforts of two Warrior tacklers. Craig Fitzgibbon converted to give his team a 6-0 lead.
And they soon doubled this with a similar scenario. For, having received a penalty for a Warriors player holding down in the tackle, they went up the middle of the field for two tackles, then spread the ball three wide to their left-side attack, with Ben Jones straighting the attack and diving over ten metres from the side-line.
Again, Fitzgibbon converted.
The Warriors had struggled to get into the game, but this changed in the 20th minute. Having received a scrum feed after a Roosters knock-on, they went to their left-side attack on the second tackle. Eventually, Simon Mannering received the ball, and rightly decided that it was of the utmost importance that he should score a try. And what do you know- he did. A mighty effort, with four defenders around him.
Stacey Jones converted and there was hope that The Warriors could still pull off a win.
That hope, however, took a short vacation , when in the 27th minute, The Roosters crossed for their third try of the afternoon. This time it was Mitchell Pearce creating havoc. Going wide to the left, Pearce threw a long ball to Tom Symonds, who found a meaningful gap in the defence and charged through it for a forty metre dash, ere off-loading to Pearce, who scampered away to touch-down. With the conversion, The Roosters were 18-6 ahead, and the ship that is The Warriors season started to take on water. Not a torrent, mind, but still, things were looking ominous for them.
Perhaps sensing that their finals chances were fast approaching a fatal end, it was time for a newcomer to shine. Issac John, debutant and Warrior number 154,received the ball as The Warriors spread the ball to their right-side attack. He surveyed his options, then with a speedy cognizance, decided the best option would be to throw a cut-out pass to Patrick Ah Van. Which, he duly did and Ah Van dived over in the corner. The try was not converted. But, it did give them some hope, being eight down instead of twelve at half-time, as this is where the score stayed for the remainder of the half.
18-10 at half-time. A disappointing place to be for The Warriors to be, especially as they had dominated possession with 58% of the ball.
Coach, Ivan Cleary would have been disappointed with his sides ball control in the first half.
So, pleasing for him that they held onto the ball in the 42nd minute. A massive boost to their confidence as they brought the deficit back to two with a converted try to big Manu Vatuvei. From a bomb. Sound familiar? Yes, but what you may like to know, is that it started from deep within their own red zone. And a splendid move it was too. Ropati made thirty metres, then off-loaded too Ah Van, who cut back on the inside and headed off on the diagonal. After being tackled, Jones put the bomb up. Ninety metres in three tackles. It seemed that, just maybe, the Warriors were starting to find where they had hidden their attack.
The old adage says, "defence wins matches". From the 44th minute through until the 50th, The Warriors proved this correct. They held out four sets of six. One after another. And, one, could sense that this was the turning of the match, The Warriors confidence was gaining by the set. Warriors fans would have been heartened to see their team playing with nous, kicking early, to play the game deep in the Roosters half.
Paid off too. For, in the 56th minute, Vatuvei crossed for his second try of the match. It wasn't converted, but all the same, The Warriors were in the lead for the first time, 20-18.
The Warriors had not won in Australia since their second round victory over Manly. In the 70th minute, it looked as this losing streak may continue when Symonds crossed for his second try. With Fitzginnon's conversion, The Roosters were ahead 24-20.
Enter Wade McKinnon. Having not been at his best since he came back from his knee reconstruction late last season, he decided that the rugby league world needed a reminder of just what he is capable of. Visions of the vintage 2007 McKinnon model came flooding back, as he stepped off his left foot too beat two defenders. Not just content with this, he roared off along his field of dreams, dreaming of a spectacular ninety metre effort. Not just a dream. They, it seems, can come true. While temporarily harassed by a defender on half-way, he easily brushed off this minor distraction, and raced off to score ten metres wide of the right hand upright. Jones converted.
26-24, and only five minutes to defend their lead.
Not only did they do that. They increased it as well. Stacey Jones touching down in the corner, after gathering the loose ball from a desperate late Roosters attack.
30-24 to the Warriors and they live to fight another day. It was a much improved performance on attack from The Warriors, although one must take into account that were playing the lowest ranked team.
Debutant, Issac John showed enough to suggest that he will play alot more first grade in the future. He looked capable of busting the line on numerous occasions and off-loading. His decision making was as good as any seen in the number six jersey for the warriors for some time. And, that pass to Ah Van, showed that he does have the vision too potentially succeed in the position.
Another positive was the long range try of Wade McKinnon's. Maybe this will catapult him back into the attacking weapon that he was in 2007.
With a back three of McKinnon, Vatuvei and Kevin Locke all at their attacking best, the attacking potential is mouth-watering.
What is not so mouth-watering is the continual turning over of ball to the opposition. Bizarrely, good ball control would seem too be a vital component for winning a football match. Egad. As would not off-loading in the tackle to a player in a worse position than the player off-loading.
But, there is still hope for The Warriors.
Only six wins from six matches in the remainder of the regular season and they can start planning an assault on finals football.