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.