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"