Sunday, August 30, 2009

Warrior's fail to Gate Crash El Magic's party

The New Zealand Warriors travelled to Australia to take on the Canterbury Bulldogs in the penultimate round of regular NRL season today. Aim: ruin Hasem El Masri's farewell party with an away win. Didn't work, though. Rather like their overall plans for the 2009 season.
A high scoring affair, 40-20, that had a bit of everything. 41835 adoring fans of El Masri's, tries aplenty, a perfect eight from eight conversions from the great man himself, offloads galore( particularly from the Warrior's in the second half as they played catch up). And a prop stealing an opportunity for El Masri to score a farewell try. Someone forgot to tell Jarrod Hickey that props are not supposed to run thirty metres to score, when he could have passed inside, for El Masri to get a perfect going away present.
Most of all, this was a day of celebration for the fourteen year veteran.A man that is the all time leading points scorer. And, a man that not only could kick goals, but knew how too find his way to the try line. One hundred and fifty nine times, in fact. Would have been one more if Jarred had passed the ball. Hasem sends his best wishes for the upcoming festive season, Jarred! A man of rare humility, a man of great integrity, a man that brings people of different races together. A great man.
For the first fifteen minutes, the Bulldog's hopes of sending El Masri out on a high were looking shaky. Despite a 2nd minute penalty to El Masri, they were down 4-2 and the Warriors were looking far the stronger of the two teams. Especially as Bulldog's playmaker, Brett Kimorley, had left the field early in the match with a suspected season ending injury. A fractured cheekbone which may also have damaged his eye socket. He gained this, as Jerome Ropati was on the rampage down the warriors left side. A head clash as Kimorley tried to effect the tackle. Ropati offloaded to Manu Vatuvei. Vatuvei only had one to beat, Luke Patten. The General, surveying his options for the upcoming battle, finds that there is not enough time to formulate a battle strategy as Vatuvei steamrolls his way straight over the top of the enemy, to give his team a 4-2 lead. Patten does live to fight another day however.
It looked like the Warriors were going to cause a boil over as they dominated the game for the next ten minutes. Not to be, this time. The Bulldogs, with an inspired Michael Ennis leading the way, gradually started to gain the ascendancy, first with a 19th minute David Stagg try. Then Josh Morris opened his bottle of form, and discovered it fizzing with a three try haul. Well, lucky him. All in the space of eight minutes, too. The third being of a very fortuitous nature. The Warrior's, having been awarded a penalty with one second of the half remaining, put a bomb up for Patrick Ah Van's wing. Ah Van got up high and batted the ball back. Problem was though, it was a Bulldog's player who scooped on the loose ball and passed to Morris, who sprinted ninety metres to touch down.
With the conversion, the Bulldog's had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead at the break. And so it proved. To the Warrior's credit, they did not give up and played their hearts out for the full eighty minutes. They added another three tries to their tally, to give Vatuvei a second and prop, Sam Rapira a rare double. Problem was, their opposition also added another two touchdowns to Greg Eastwood and the already discussed, Jarred Hickey.
It was never going to be enough though. The Bulldog's were a superior unit, although it remains to be seen how Kimorley's injury will effect their chances of progressing to the grand final.
In the end, though, the day was about El Masri. A man that through all the rugby league scandals of recent times, to his credit, has stayed out of trouble.
A fine career that, rightly, should be celebrated.

Saturday, August 15, 2009



Thirty-six points go missing

New Zealand Warriors management, in conjunction with the NRL have called in the Parramatta police to investigate the alleged theft of thirty-six points, tonight at Parramatta Stadium. Warriors management have accused the Parramatta side of stealing the points, but Parramatta players have countered this with accusations of poor defence on the part of Warriors players.
In what turned out to be an easy case to investigate, sources from within Parramatta police have said that the only offence they will be charging the Parramatta players with, is that of being in possession of more than their fair share of ball over the first twenty minutes of the match. Parramatta coach, Daniel Anderson conceded that they could not defend this charge as the facts were undeniable. However, he did say that he was pleased that once they got hold of this possession, they used it in what he considered a meaningful way, and was sure their team's fans would forgive them.
In a twist of irony, the same sources have claimed that the Warriors players and coaching staff would be charged with aiding and abetting their rivals in running up an inordinately large score. Also, a charge of poor defence will be levelled at them.
Both lots of defendants are expected to appear in court on Monday morning. Warriors coach, Ivan Cleary, bristling with fierce indignation when told of the charges, claimed credit should be given to the Parramatta attack. While Parrematta's attack was good, experts say that this does not allow for a 40-4 defeat and that the Warriors defence of their defence will not stand up in court.
It is expected that, while all members of the team tried their utmost, most Warrior's players will come in for strong sentencing, but Manu "the beast" Vatuvei will survive with his reputation intact, after a strong showing, which included one try from a Stacey Jones last tackle kick. Sound familiar? While it is to be conceded that a try is a try, this appears to be the Warrior's definition of an attacking play. Their only one, all season, it seems. As one of historys great wits, Oscar Wilde, once wrote, "to define is to limit".
On the other side, while Parramatta did commit one of the seven deadly sins, Gluttony, during the first twenty minutes, at the very least they used it with an effervescent zest that was too net them three tries in that same time span. In the case of the first and third tries, they were both instigated by the best player on the field, Jarrod Hayne. Both times he severed the Warriors defence, to set up Joel Reddy and Matthew Keating, who both scored close to the goalposts.
With those and one other to Daniel Mortimer, Parramatta were already ahead, 18-0. Vatuvei got his touchdown in the 32nd minute. That was to be the Warrior's first and last joy of what was a soul searching eighty minutes. Up until then, there had only been one team in the match. From then onwards, there was only one team in it.
The remaining fifty minutes brought dividends for Parramatta, in the nature of four more tries. Except for one, the rest were converted by Luke Burt. Which will go along way to helping secure Parramatta a top eight birth. Before the match they had a points deferential of -46. Those conversions not only helped secure a large win, but brought the deferential back to -12. This will be crucial in their charge for a finals berth.
For the Warriors, they tried different playing staff, but it proved to be a case of another week, another loss. The season's end can't come soon enough for them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Warriors Season beyond Repair

A wise old sage once said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. Well, add to that the New Zealand Warriors propensity to give away a plethora of possession to the opposition. Whether it was on the first tackle or after they had done good work, making seventy metres in a set of six, only to spill the ball on the last tackle, against the Gold Coast Titans today at Mt Smart Stadium.
And the Titans gleefully swallowed the loose ball up. Used it well, too. Played the percentages. Sensible football. And, it paid off for them. Ahead 14-0at half-time, they used a strong tail wind in the second half to forge ahead to a five tries to two(30-10) victory.
The Warriors had the use of that same wind in the first half, but failed to put it to good use. As mentioned earlier, they constantly turned over possession. Gold Coast, delighted with this, forced the Warriors into goal line drop-outs on four occasions. After twenty minutes they had clocked up ninety more tackles than their opposites. And it told. Gold Coast had jumped to a 14-0 lead in the 20th minute, through tries to Anthony Laffranchi and Scott Prince.
The first was off a dubious call by the match officials. Prince had kicked on the last tackle and the ball had hit Russel Packer. Packer was deemed to have played at the ball. If he did, then the Sun orbits the Earth. Referees, Steve Lyon and Alan Shortall clearly had made a blunder. One flew east, one flew west, two flew into the cuckoo's nest+.
The Warriors kept the damage at fourteen points until half-time, which was a good effort considering the stupendous amount of possession Gold Coast had had.
The penalty count helped their cause. Four penalties in a row, and again the referees lecture was in evidence. It had seemed recently, that this most ponderous of activities had gone into hiatus. But, no, it's back. Old habits die hard.
The second half brought fresh hope for Warriors faithful. The penalty count kept going their way. And, finally they made an impact. It wasn't a bird, it wasn't a plane, and no, it wasn't superman. But, it was supermanu. And Manu Vatuvei can fly on occasions. He did it twice here. Both time times on the last tackle. Both times from pinpoint Stacey Jone's bombs.
With these tries and a conversion to the Kevin Locke,- playing at fullback for the first time this season - the score was back to a four point margin, 14-10. And that is as close as they got. Gold Coast then put on the afterburners to score three more tries. One to Kevin Gordon, who received a rather propitious tap back off a Scott Prince bomb to stroll over unharrassed, and a double to Mat Rogers, to bring his career tally to ninety-eight.
30 points to ten, and for those glass half full types who held out hope of the Warriors still getting to the top eight, they might well fill the glass right up and drown their sorrows. Any mathematical hope has now gone, and it is a season that has left everyone wondering what went wrong. It started so promisingly, but went pear shaped awfully quickly. Some will point to the loss of Brent Tate. And he is a big loss. But, then, last season they lost Wade McKinnon, who you could argue is just as valuable as Tate. And last season they made the penultimate of the season.
Others have blamed Stacey Jones. He has not been anywhere as bad as he is made out to be. In fact, he has played to a respectable level. Those criticizing him should first look at other aspects of the team performance, such as if there are decoy runners in operation and what angles they are running. One man cannot win the game by himself, and anyone who thought he was going to be the player of seven years ago and a saviour, were somewhat deluded.
Whatever the reasons, Coach Ivan Cleary, has now got seven months to analyse what went wrong and to repair the warriors ship. Because he must surely be feeling the pressure of extra scrutiny.

+ Idea from Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Moon Shines Brightly as The New Zealand Warriors and Penrith fight out thriller

Joel Moon scored four tries. The New Zealand Warriors blow a twenty-six point lead. Penrith claw back that margin to be 32-all at the end of eighty minutes. And, ten minutes of pulsating entertainment in extra time, that ends in a draw. What more could one hope for?
And so it was. A match where Warriors fans would have been left scratching their heads as to where this attacking form had been for the majority of the season. Penrith supporters, on the other hand, would have spent the first sixty minutes wondering whether their team really wanted to play finals football this year.
Why, too, is it that once the warriors could not make the top eight, they suddenly found their long lost attack? Could it be that now that the pressure valve has been released, they find it easier to take the risks on attack? And, if so, is there a problem with mental toughness there?
A coaching issue looms.
It was a match that The Warriors led 32-6 and should have never lost. For sixty minutes they dominated Penrith in all facets of the game. They did the hard yards up the middle of the ruck initially, and, then, showed their attacking guile. None more so than Joel Moon, who got himself a hat-trick within the first thirty-three minutes. His second being the best of them, as he dived over in the left side corner with very little room to move. The third was the Warriors try of the day. After Manu Vatuvei had busted through the opposing defence, and headed off along the field in search of the meaning of life, he off-loaded to Stacey Jones who joined in the search. Five metres out from Penrith's goal line, the ball came loose and there was Moon to gather the loose ball and dive over under the horizontal bar. The meaning of life, after Kevin Locke had converted, was worth six points, it turns out.
20-6 ahead, which they held to half-time, and it looked like it was going to be their night. Continued too look that way too, for the immediate ten minutes after the break as Moon again crossed for his fourth try, shortly to be followed by Lewis Brown in the 51st minute. With Kevin Locke converting five from five, this gave them a 32-6 lead. Which you would generally consider this to be an unassailable lead. Wisdom would suggest that a team in this position would consolidate their position with some safety first football, concentrating on completing their sets of six. Not helter skelter football. This is The Warriors though. Instead they threw the ball around with gay abandon, with no regard for the end result. And that result came in the form of forced passes that needn't have been. Dropped ball and a failure to complete their sets. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, they certainly can be.
This gave Penrith more possession and the momentum started to shift. First, in the 54th minute when Shane Elford crossed, to give them a glimmer of hope.
Luke Walshe joined in the fun ten minutes later when he stepped neatly past three Warriors defenders to score next to the left upright. At 32-18, and fifteen minutes left on the clock, this is where the Warriors should have got their minds back on the job at hand. Instead, Penrith continued to force the issue to touchdown twice more.
32-30, now, with two and a half minutes left. Not the time to give away a penalty. Unfortunately this was not too be, as Stacey Jones caught Jarrod Sammut with a head high tackle. Michael Gordon stepped up and slotted the penalty for Penrith to level the scores at 32 a piece, and send the match into extra time.
The closest either team came to scoring, was in the 83rd minute when Lance Hohaia attempted a field goal. Not a bad effort, too. But, alas, it was not to be, as the ball struck the horizontal bar and bounced back into the field of play for Penrith to regather.
Numerous other field-goal attempts from both sides failed to find their mark, meaning the two teams played out the third draw of the 2009 NRL season.
With five rounds to go in the regular season, The Warriors have next to no chance of making the top eight, but if they continue to perform as they did for the first sixty minutes, they are going to be of nuisance value to teams trying to gain places five to eight.