Sunday, April 25, 2010

After four days of controversy, if the Melbourne Storm players were blue, they certainly did not exhibit those feelings tonight in Melbourne against the New Zealand Warriors.
In front of 23906 hollering fans, the Storm put up a tremendous display of attacking rugby league, to demolish a lacklustre Warriors outfit 40-6. Their 51st minute try to Willie Isa was the epitome of try scoring grandeur. Running the ball on the last tackle, they used quick hands to get the ball to Matt Duffie, who ran forty metres before offloading to Isa on the inside. This is rugby league as it should be played.
And, on debut, Duffie became Australasia’s man of the plural, scoring two tries. Under pressure of the emotional stress that has inflicted the Storm this week, it was confirmation of a fine young talent to operate at the level he did for the full eighty minutes. And scoring tries is a string to your bow that a winger must possess. Keep this up and he will continue to climb the rungs on the ladder to NRL success.
Many were waiting for this match in eager anticipation of how the Storm would handle the week’s events. Turns out that it impelled them onto a stupendous level of achievement. They could have turned up on the day believing they had nothing to play for and put in a limp effort. But this lot are better than that. Their emotional and mental fortitude was on display for all to see. While some of their administrators have shamed themselves, the players and coaching staff have done themselves proud on what would have been one of the toughest nights of their rugby league careers.
It could have turned ugly for them, though, as the Warriors in the first ten minutes came out and physically dominated. Their defence was a symphony of organised brutality. Often with four men in the tackle, prop Sam Rapira took it upon himself to indulge his inner enforcer with some crunching hits.
Despite this Melbourne hung tough and weathered the initial storm, the symphony starting to hit more than a few sour notes forcing the Warriors into repeated errors and henceforth from the 16th minute onwards, the Melbourne side took it upon themselves to redecorate the Warriors in-goal area with a plethora of try scoring feats. Redecoration of the opposition in-goal becomes them too. There were many visitors to this part of the landscape. It was Cameron Smith who put his touch to proceedings in the 16th minute when he ran from dummy-half, carrying three defenders with him to score ten metres wide of the right upright. Liking to participate in as much as is possible, Smith converted his own try to give his side a 6-0 lead.
It seems rumours abounded throughout his teammates of the delacies of the opposition in-goal zone, as they rattled up another three tries in the first half, the best of which came in the 36th minute, as Brett Finch stepped off his left foot to bust the opposition line wide open before he offloaded to Ryan Tandy to run twenty metres to score under the crossbar.
While the Warriors completion rate in the second half did improve dramatically on their first half effort, like the first half they did not look like getting over the Storms goal line. Instead Melbourne players continued to take more than just a passing fancy to their opposition’s in-goal area. Duffie was at it again in the 48th minute after Cooper Cronk surprised the Warriors by running on the last tackle and passing on the inside to Billy Slater who then floated a pass out wide to Duffie to score in the right corner. Smith converted with a fine goal from near the sideline, you can be sure of that.
With Isa’s 51st minute try and a marvellous effort from Billy Slater to force the ball from a Cronk grubber kick in the 67th minute, Melbourne had the game well and truly sealed up.’
The Warriors did score a consolation try to Ukuma Ta’ai late in the game, but the last ten minutes were more significant for a number of high tackles, as frustration got the better of some Warriors players. James Maloney may have a case to answer at the judiciary for a high shot on Cronk as will Melbourne’s Brett White for a raised forearm on Warrior’s Captain Michael Luck as Luck was trying to tackle White.
Warrior’s Coach Ivan Cleary has got problems not of an incremental proportion. For the second week in a row, his team has put in a substandard display. He will desperately be hoping to get some of his star players back into functioning form. He is badly missing Steve Price and Simon Mannering for their leadership skills, Manu Vatuvei for his impact and Brett Seymour for his ability to organise the team at halfback. They looked rudderless on attack and the return of Seymour can’t come soon enough.
That wasn’t the real story to come out of tonight’s match though. What was highlighted was the courage in the face of adversity that the Melbourne playing staff revealed.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Over the previous twenty-four hours, there have been many issues to come out of the salary cap saga involving the Melbourne Storm. One such issue has been the calls from some to declare Manly and Parramatta premiers in 2007 and 2009 respectively.
Surely those clubs and their supporters don’t really want their team to be awarded a premiership belatedly in this fashion. Yes, they and for that matter, the other thirteen teams as well, were robbed by a Melbourne club that decided the only way to hail success was to do it by cheating.
But winning a premiership title by default is not the way in which any club would want to gain such an honour. Surely it would be nothing more than a hollow victory. A victory tainted by the realisation that they didn’t win against a genuine opponent. They will always be wondering if they were truly good enough to win a grand final in that particular year.
Because that’s the thing about it. If Melbourne had not cheated and failed to make the grand final, who’s to say that Manly or Parramatta would have beaten any other team on the big stage in their title fight? And there are no guarantees in sport. For example, just because they may have beaten St George earlier in the finals series or for that matter in the regular season, doesn’t mean that they will be the winner on grand final day.
And based on the theory that they were duded, then the same argument could be applied to other aspects of every game. Imagine, if you will, that Canterbury are leading Penrith 16-14 with two minutes to play until full-time and Penrith are hot on attack. There is one pass required for them to score the match winning try. The pass is made and they are awarded a try. But the referee missed the fact that the pass was forward and Penrith gain the victory. It turns out that Canterbury miss the top eight by one point and don’t get the chance to play finals football in 2010.
Canterbury officials are fuming and demand that the NRL give them the two points from the match in round ten. We could go on and on with such scenarios.
The reality, however, is that if we are going to start changing results for every mistake made or for all cases of cheating that occur, then the game will turn into a colossal nightmare.
And the game of Rugby League has struggled through enough of them over the last few years.
What’s the bet that the NRL referees are extremely grateful to the Melbourne Storm. Having been in the firing line for sub-standard performances last weekend, they have well and truly been overtaken in the controversy stakes by the startling news to come out of Australia today, that Melbourne have had their points from matches won so far this season docked. Not only that, they will not accrue any further points this season, effectively consigning them to the wooden spoon already at this early stage of the season. It gets worse for them, though. As well as losing this seasons points, they have had three minor premierships and two grand final win stripped, as well. But wait, there’s more. To add to their grief, they have been fined $500000 and their winnings from the last five seasons of 1.1 million dollars is to be returned.
So, not a good day for the Storm then. Some will be questioning why Melbourne has lost this season’s points as well as their premierships. It’s simple really, in so far as they have been found to be $700000 over the cap for 2010. There will be, of course, be those who will claim that there shouldn’t be a salary cap. This really is missing the point. Quite simply, whether one agrees with the cap or not, the reality is that it does exist and the rules are the same for all sixteen clubs. If the other fifteen clubs must keep to the rules of the cap, why then should Melbourne be exempt? The short answer is that they shouldn’t.
Though, we now know how Melbourne was able to keep so many of the game’s superstars at the club. That they could have the likes of Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater on the books has always seemed incredible. And what’s more, there have been rumours floating around recently that Israel Folau may have been heading back to Melbourne. These may or may not have been true, but if they were, how were they planning on paying the guy within the salary cap. Have a think about that one.
By cheating the salary cap to the extent that they have has been nothing short of disgraceful. While it is unlikely that the players knew anything about the financial goings on of the club, clearly there are some administrators within the Storm that have systematically and deliberately gone out of their way to cheat the system. Shame on them. It’s not as if they had only duped the NRL for one season. Instead they have been going at it for five long years.
And when you think about it, it’s not that they have cheated the NRL’s rules that is the worst thing about the whole scenario. No, it is the fact that they have cheated teams such as Parramatta in 2009 and Manly in 2007 out of the chance of winning a grand final. And then there are the fans. The fans of rival clubs that have seen their team’s chances of overall success in the competition affected by losing to a team that was put together using nefarious methods.
What is even worse is the disrespect that the Melbourne Storm officials have shown to their own fans. Those hardcore twelve or thirteen thousand fans that turn up to support their team no matter what. Those supporters have every right to feel gutted by what has happened and if they have lost faith in their club, who could possibly blame them? For it is simply breathtaking the arrogance with which the administrators responsible have shown towards the rest of the rugby league community. That they went to the extent of having two sets of books, one which they showed the NRL and the other that they actually paid the players with, over a period of five years displays nothing but contempt for the game in general.
And even worse is the fact they, along with everyone else in rugby league, saw what happened to the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2002 when they were caught abusing the salary cap. And yet Melbourne officials were still prepared to take that risk. Well, they only have themselves to blame for the predicament that they now find themselves in.
Will Melbourne survive? It is hard to see how they will recover in the long term. Now that they have nothing to play for this year, the crowd numbers may dwindle. Retaining sponsorship will now become an issue. What company would want to have their brand associated with one of the game’s biggest cheaters? This of course means that the club will be bringing in less revenue, which will in turn affect their ability to keep their star players. In reality, they will lose some of them now unless Smith, Inglis, Slater and co are prepared to take pay cuts to help the club get back within the salary cap limit.
If those players aren’t prepared to do that, then the Storm will have their side decimated. And an average quality side will not be able to bring in the punters in what is the AFL heartland. As it is, Melbourne already depends on News Ltd to keep them afloat.
The events of the last twelve hours may have seen the start of the end for the Melbourne Storm.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rugby League is a magnificent game. It has a great mix of stunning attack, bone shattering defence. It has skill levels displayed on a weekly basis that just take your breath away. On display every match are superstar players that everything comes easy too. There are others that may not be as talented, but what they lack in talent they make up for in sheer hard work. It is a privilege to watch those players just as much as it is to watch the superstars of the ilk of Greg Inglis.
That’s the good bit. Now for the bad part. What none of us wish to witness or listen too is the referees lecture. Once again it was on display for all to be bored to death by in today’s match between Parrematta and South Sydney. Two players sin binned that did not deserve to be.
There is as much joy to be taken from having this diatribe of the senses forced upon us as there is from being locked shut in an enclosed tank of barracudas.
Please Mr Referee, just shut up. Your lectures are the prattle of the dead. Perhaps you don’t grasp the concept of what a referee is supposed to do. You see, the idea is that because we have to have rules in this great game, you, the referee are there to enforce them. That means that if a player breaks one of those rules, you penalise him. If he knocks on, you award a scrum to the opposing team. There’s a bit more to it than that obviously, but I think you get the idea. Not hard is it?
In the case of a player repeatedly infringing, it is quite simple. Just send him to the sin bin. That is partly what it is there for. Yes, I know, this is a shocking revelation. Who would have guessed it? I mean, why send a player to the sin bin when you, the referee, can hold forth for forty seconds and lecture the offending player’s captain about the error of their ways. “Now Nathan, I need you to help me to help you to help me to help you to help me to keep the game flowing and eliminate these penalties”. Obviously not exactly what is said, but it might as well be. What they do say is just as mindless.
The problem with these lectures is that it, ironically, it inadvertently penalises the team that has been awarded the penalty. Instead of letting them get on with the game quickly, instead, all it does is give the penalised team the opportunity to set their defensive line. Which, I’m sure, they are mighty grateful to you for, too.
In today’s game, we had the absolutely preposterous situation in the second half, where Parrematta had been given a lecture about penalties, and warned that the next player in their team to be penalised would be sin binned. And sure enough, shortly after, Parrematta were penalised for stripping the ball in the tackle. Nathan Cayless was sin binned. First problem was that Cayless did not strip the ball. It was Daniel Mortimer. The second dilemma here is that Cayless, a player that had not been penalised all match, unfairly gets taken from the field for the sins of other players in his team that had been penalised previously.
Stay with me here, because it gets even better yet. Having sent one player to the sin bin because of excessive penalties, the referees backed themselves into a corner and had to even things up. So when the next penalty was awarded against South Sydney, that player was given ten minutes in the bin. He was penalised for a high tackle. Replays clearly showed that it wasn’t high. Even so it was a chance for the referees to even the playing numbers up. And this is clearly what they were doing. Going on the logic of the referees, you would assume that the next player after this to be penalised would be sin binned, too. But no, they let it stay at twelve players per side. That is the absurdity of the whole exercise. If the referees followed through on these threats in all matches, we would soon have games played whereby both teams were down to eight players each. Because, by rights, once they give the warning, each player penalised thereafter should go to the sin bin.
As one commentator pointed out during the match, these referees should be demoted for next week’s round. Quite right, too.
Having said that, referees boss Robert Finch has even more to answer for than his referees do. For it can only be assumed that as the man in charge of the referees, he is the one responsible for coming up with the idea of the lecture. And ultimately the buck stops with him. He has been in his current position for a long time now and the standard of refereeing has not improved.
While the introduction of the two referee system has been great, despite this, we still see some appalling decisions made on the field. What is even worse are some of the calls made from the video referee’s box. These guys get the opportunity to see multiple replays, and yet, still manage on occasions to come up with the wrong decision.
Usually Finch comes out and defends the indefensible. While it is commendable that he publicly backs his staff, the reality is that these people are professionals and the mistakes should not be happening, especially from the video refs.
And Finch is responsible for the performance of his staff.
It is time he accepted that his time has passed and stood down.
Critics used to say that the New Zealand Warriors couldn’t win away from home. They were only any good at Mt Smart Stadium, they claimed.
Well it seems there has been some role reversal taking place as the Warriors have won their last two matches in Australia, but today have lost their second match of the season at home to the Penrith Panthers 40-12 in a dismal display.
Is it really taking that much out of them winning away from home that they cannot back up the next week on home soil? Surely not. Or are the displays against Brisbane and Canterbury-Bankstown, where they are throwing the ball around at will- and getting away with it- making them complacent? That they thought they could simply just turn up and the result would happen automatically.
You could certainly be forgiven for wondering when normally aggressive runners such as Sam Rapira were constantly passing several metres in front of the defence. Lateral running seemed to be the order of the day.
On the flipside of this, Penrith, led by a storming display by Captain Petro Cirninoceva, went through the middle of the Warriors ruck with good effect. The result of this hard toil was a seven tries to two slaughtering of the home side. Penrith look to be a side that are more than capable of playing finals football in 2010.
A week ago the same sentiment could have been applied to the Warriors. But they do not look capable of backing up from a sublime effort one week with more of the same the next, or even a solid performance the next. With the exception of the first ten minutes of the second half, they looked flat for the other seventy minutes. It only took two minutes for Ben Matulino to knock-on in his own half. Penrith capitalised virtually straight away with a try to Adrian Purtell who regathered the ball from a bomb, to score out wide.
Another two tries came from last tackle kicks in the first half from Luke Walshe. For the majority of the match Warriors players stood back and let Walshe have his way with the game. And they suffered the consequences, too.
By half-time Penrith were ahead 22-0 and there looked to be no way back for the Warriors. Ultimately, this proved to be the case. But they did give the 17,000 fans that turned up some hope in the first ten minutes after the break.
First a try to second rower Ukuma Tai’a in the 45th minute, then Brent Tate crossed five minutes later. With two conversions to James Maloney, the margin was down to ten and it appeared that the Warriors were in with a strong chance.
Unfortunately for Coach Ivan Cleary, his charges reverted back to their old ways, letting Penrith in for a further three tries.
It’s not that Penrith weren’t good. They were. They made good metres up the middle of the ruck, completed their sets, put good kicks in on the last tackle and their kick-chase was superb all day. They did everything required of them.
But, the Warriors could have made it harder for them. They were a rabble for most of the match.
On the positive side, they can only get better.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Well, it seems that finally somebody is pushing for the corner flag rule in Rugby League to be changed. And not before time, one may add.
Along with a few other anomalies in League such as the referees lecture and the ridiculous rule currently in place in terms of putting pressure (lack of it) on the ball when a player is forcing the ball for a try, the corner flag rule ranks right up there for outright stupidity.
At this point in time, if a player touches the corner post as he is diving for a try, he is deemed to be out of play. And this despite the fact that he may not me touching the sideline or the area the other side of the sideline. In other words he is still in the air. How can he be out if he has not touched part of the sideline or the ground the other side of it? Ridiculous.
Even Rugby has long since changed the rule regarding corner posts. And that is a sport run by a group of old dinosaurs who usually do nothing more than ape every good idea that rugby league comes up with. If they can manage it, surely the good folk at the NRL could change the rule without bringing the sport to its knees. At the end of each season they generally review the rules and in discussion with people such as coaches, work out what needs changing, and do it.
So then, not hard at all. Round six approaches this weekend. Surely they could have the rule changed by round seven. They don’t have to do away with the flag entirely. It can still be there. Just make it so that if a player touches it, but is not touching the sideline, he is still considered in. Simple. That would ensure that teams that currently have tries denied because of the corner post would not be missing out on points they should rightfully get.
And, hey, if some of the players are really clever about it, they will even learn to use the flag to their advantage. Just imagine, if you will, that a player as he is diving to score is tackled at the same time, and knocks the flag so that it is lying flat on the ground over the touchline and his body is on top of the flag which is now horizontal but has no part of his body touching the ground, yet he still manages to force the ball for a try. It would still be a try, not to mention a wonderful piece of skill on his part.
So come on David Gallop and the team at NRL headquarters, get to work and sort out one of the game’s more ludicrous rules. It isn’t hard, you know.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In the last two weeks we have seen in the rugby league world, accusations of a NRL club cheating the salary cap. As yet it has still to be ascertained as to whether the Gold Coast Titans have been paying some of their playing staff extra on the sly.
With this latest furore over the salary cap has come the usual calls for the cap to be discontinued. Players should be able to earn whatever they can get, say some. It is a restraint of trade, hence illegal, say others. So much for a free market economy, you can hear them say. On the flipside of this, the supporters for a restriction on how much can be spent on player payments will point out that the competition is now a lot more even.
The former may well have some valid points. In the end though, what is of the utmost importance, is the game of Rugby League. Remember, if the game is not in a sound financial position, there will be even less coin floating around for the players to earn. In other words, everyone will be the poorer for it.
So, should the salary cap stay or should it be deregulated and let the clubs go at it open slather?
For mine, I believe that the cap should stay. If it were to be abolished, this would have catastrophic consequences for Rugby League, particularly in New South Wales. And League needs New South Wales to be strong. Rugby League, in its current form, could hardly be said to be a worldwide game. It is restricted, on the whole, to the eastern seaboard of Australia, small pockets of support in New Zealand and played in the north of England. If the NRL were to do away with the salary cap, the Sydney based teams would surely be the ones to suffer.
The richer clubs outside of New South Wales, like one city teams such as Brisbane and Auckland would have a field day pilfering the playing staff of the less wealthy. Super clubs would emerge. Some would say that is good for the game in that it forces other teams to lift their standard up to those top clubs. That’s all well and good, except for the obvious, that if those poorer clubs cannot afford to pay top players to come to their club, then they will more than likely lose more often, ergo, the crowds will start disappearing, less money will come into the coffers of these clubs and then the likes of Cronulla will become even poorer. Eventually they will be forced to close down or merge with other clubs.
Can you imagine the likes of Cronulla joining forces with St George? Maybe Canterbury Bankstown merging with Parramatta? Hell would freeze over before that ever happened. The fans wouldn’t tolerate it. A lot of these fans would simply stop going to the league, and the last thing rugby league needs is for the footballing public of New South Wales to become disenfranchised.
Of course, there will be those that point out that the players should be able to earn whatever they can get, and if they can’t here, then they will head off for greener pastures in the English super league or even possibly Rugby. Which is fine. If they aren’t happy with a piffling $400,000pa in the NRL then let them go and play in an inferior competition for mega bucks in England. There are always talented players coming up through the grades ready to replace them.
We are going to lose players and it will create a competition that is based on mediocrity is the other argument they like to put forward. Well, hello. Where have all these doomsayers been? Week in, week out, we see a tremendous standard of football with games going down to the wire on many occasions. Any team on their day can win.
If in fact the salary cap is preventing the super club from existing, what prey tell do you call Melbourne? After all, this is a club that has played in the last four grand finals, and won two of them. In their fifteen years since their inception they have won three grand finals. Under Coach Craig Bellamy they have consistently brought in players that have been discarded by other clubs and turned them into top line players. Money is not what achieved this: great coaching and having the right structures in place so that the playing staff can perform to their potential is what achieves the desired results.
Have a look at the teams that are performing consistently. Yes, they do have their share of superstar players. But it comes down to more than that. You can throw all the money in the world at the playing personnel, but if they are not well coached and the club’s administration is not of a high level, then that team will not necessarily achieve on the field. And the coach is the vital cog in all of this: not necessarily money.
The above mentioned Craig Bellamy has shown what a great coach can achieve. Phil Gould is another who is capable of achieving great things with teams he has coached. As has Wayne Bennett, with the St George Dragons (not forgetting what he did with Brisbane before that). The classic example is that of Jamie Soward. Until Bennett arrived at the start of 2009, Soward was an underachiever. You could have thrown a million dollars pa at Soward and it would not have made one iota of difference. What did make a difference however was Bennett’s coaching. Clearly Bennett has been able to instil in Soward the confidence to achieve at a level he previously could not. Money had absolutely nothing to do with that.
Of course the NRL could abolish the cap. One rich club could go out and effectively buy the Australian team. They’ll win by thirty every week. Those seventeen players will have all the money they could ever want, while those rugby league lovers out there will get to see a lopsided competition.
Wouldn’t that be great?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Was it worth the risk? Manu Vatuvei’s shock inclusion may well have contributed to Canterbury-Bankstown being caught on the hop somewhat, but the Warriors may be without their main strike weapon for longer than was originally necessary. Yes, he did score one try and make two significant breaks in their 30-24 win in Sydney on Saturday night, but he will now be taking an extended break.
Outside of Vatuvei’s injury and the occasional lapse on defence, there was a lot to like in their five tries to four win. With six front line troops out they are sitting comfortably in the top eight and whats more, have two wins from three in Australia. It is early days still, but the signs are looking promising. Maintaining their position within the eight means away victories are paramount and so far they are delivering.
Not only that but their star continues to burn brightly on attack. With Coach Ivan Cleary having removed the fetters from them and given them a license to attack with impunity, they are going to town with it and offloading to the extreme. Maybe just a bit too much, as well. While the attack has been great, no sooner have they scored a length of the field try, than they will attempt to offload on the first tackle from the resulting kick-off.
Once they have tempered their urge to offload when it realistically is not on, this team are only going to become even more dangerous. Mix that in with a much improved kicking game, particularly the grubber kicks that halfback James Maloney delivered to the in-goal of the Bulldogs, and the Warriors are now able to put sustained pressure on their opposition.
And it was one of those grubbers that got them on the scoreboard. Trailing 6-0, in the 17th minute Maloney put in a pinpoint grubber to the Bulldogs in-goal for stand in Captain Brent Tate to gather and force down fifteen metres wide of the right upright. Not only was Maloney’s general kicking game a major help to his side, he also slotted five goals for a 100% kicking percentage.
Maloney, as well as his kicking game being on, steered his side around the park exceedingly well. It seems that the Warriors have found themselves a long term proposition in the halves. And the Warriors, having found their way into enemy territory in the 24th minute, spread the ball wide to their left side attack to Vatuvei, who strolled over to dot down in the corner.
12-6 ahead and the Warriors were starting to dominate the middle of the ruck. Late in the first half they had a chance to mount more pressure on Canterbury when the forced consecutive goal line drop-outs with three minutes to go in the half. They couldn’t translate this pressure into points and paid the price when in the dying seconds of the half, Ben Barba scythed his way through the Warriors defence to level the scores at 12-12.
The Warriors shifted into overdrive shortly after the half-time break, when within the space of three minutes they crossed for two tries. One in the 45th minute to Jacob Lillyman and another to Kevin Locke in the 48th minute appeared to give them the ascendancy and a likely victory.
This is where they should have put the game beyond the reach of the Bulldogs. A period of consolidation would have been the sensible option. Instead the likes of Locke could not suppress the urge to offload in the tackle from kick-offs.
This only helped Canterbury back into the match. Down 24-12, they conjured up two tries of their own within the space of three minutes to Luke Patten and teenage sensation Jamal Idris.
There was a lot made of the lack of fitness of the Warriors last in 2009. Well, it is no longer an issue this season. Despite Canterbury having the better of the next ten minutes, with the Warriors appearing to tire, The Warriors players dug deep and battled through the pain well. Some sterling defensive efforts on their own line to keep the Bulldogs out lifted their intensity and they found another gear. This side would not have managed this last season. So fitness has most definitely improved. And with it, the confidence to go the full eighty minutes.
Which they did admirably. It would have been the Bulldogs, with the support of a home crowd that would have been expected to come home the strongest. Instead, the warriors found something extra, when with seventy second remaining on the clock, Lance Hohaia sent the ball wide to the left connecting up with Lewis Brown who ran thirty metres before putting a kick through. The usually reliable Luke Patten knocked on and Brown was on hand to scoop the loose ball up and pass to Hohaia who touched down under the crossbar to seal the win.
So, a win to the Warriors and despite some great attack it wasn’t necessarily a great all-round performance. Which, in the end is a positive. In the sense that they were able to secure the two competition points having turned over possession with unforced errors regularly and being without so many top line players.
With Maloney again starring in the halves, it made the job of fill in stand-off Lance Hohaia all that much easier. He did a fine job on the day, but whether he is a viable long term option closer to the ruck is still open to debate.
What isn’t in doubt is the continued rise of Sam Rapira and Russell Packer. Still only in their early twenties, they just get better each week. With Steve Price out with a heel injury, it was expected that the young forwards would struggle, but they have not missed a beat.
And with the forwards performing as they are in Price’s absence, this side will only get better once he and a few other front liners return.
Maddening. Highly entertaining, mind, but maddening all the same. But that’s the New Zealand Warriors for you. One minute they’ll race the length of the field to score a try that only they could. Then from the resulting kick-off, on the first tackle, they will be offloading and turning over possession.
That was pretty much how the match went as they held off a late charging Canterbury-Bankstown side 30-24 in Sydney tonight. It was a match- with Manu Vatuvei a surprise late inclusion- that they should have wrapped up comfortably after gaining a 24-12 lead early in the second half. But the Warriors being the Warriors, they tried to push the passes when it simply was not on. Way more exciting that way, you see.
Despite all this and the utter chaos of end to end attack that marked this match, Warriors coach Ivan Cleary will be pleased that his side has gained the two points away from home despite not being at their best. Not to mention the fact that he is without five of his front line players. Oh, make that six now as Vatuvei lasted forty-five minutes before leaving the field with his hamstring re injured. He never looked comfortable from the beginning and the wisdom of playing a half fit player surely must be questioned. Amazingly, Vatuvei still managed to contribute to his team’s cause with a try and two breaks down his left wing.
However it was Canterbury who made all the early running, through share weight of possession. The match was only three hundred and four seconds old when Brett Kimmorley threw a dummy and scooted five metres to dot down fifteen metres wide of the left upright. With the conversion to winger Bryson Goodwin, all was looking good for Canterbury.
That was until mayhem and havoc entered the fray. Mayhem was on the Warriors right side attack in the form of Brent Tate who scored in the 17th minute after he chased through a grubber kick from James Maloney to touchdown fifteen metres wide of the right upright.
Then along came havoc on the left side attack in the 24th minute as Vatuvei decided to implant his talent on proceedings by finishing off a passing movement to the left and score in the corner. Maloney converted both tries giving the Warriors a 12-6 lead.
The game meandered along for the next fifteen minutes until it was rocked back into life by Canterbury Stand-off Ben Barba. The Warriors had showed solidity on defence for much of the first half, but Barba, having received the ball twenty wide of the upright on his sides left side attack cut back off his left foot to dart past two Warriors defenders to touchdown next to the upright. They don’t call him the x-factor for nothing you know. With Goodwin’s conversion the scores were level at twelve a piece.
If the entertainment value had been of a high calibre in the first half, then just wait until you see what happened after half-time. For it was a smorgasbord of end to end football. Admittedly there were a few mistakes in between the goodly amount of attacking fare on show. That attacking fare was always near too as the Warriors found a decent proportion of it over the first eight minutes of the second half. First in the 45th minute as Maloney rediscovered his attacking game from two weeks ago in Brisbane to slice through the Canterbury defence before offloading to Jacob Lillyman, who ran twenty metres to dot down under the crossbar.
Then just three minutes later Kevin Locke pounced on the loose ball from a Ben Barba knock-on to score. A 24-12 lead with the Warriors looking like they had gained the ascendancy and the game was theirs to finish off. Well it should have been. This is where they would have been expected to play percentage football. Particularly straight after they had scored a four pointer. But a series of turn over’s from the Warriors let Canterbury back into the game. And Canterbury gratefully accepted that invitation back with tries in the 55th and 58th minutes to Luke Patten and teenage star Jamal Idris to level at 24-24.
Canterbury looked to be getting on top of a tiring Warriors outfit over the next ten minutes, but the Warriors playing staff dug deep and held Canterbury out. Slowly but surely they got themselves going forward again and nearly finished the match off when Lewis Brown -now playing in the centre’s- dived for the try line, only to have the ball knocked from his hands by Goodwin in the tackle. They had gone to their left side attack when the more appropriate action would have been to take an attempt at a field goal.
Opportunity lost. It looked like they would rue not taking the field goal two minutes later as Brett Kimmorly lined up for an attempt of his own, only to push it to the right of the right upright.
So with seventy seconds remaining in normal time, do you put safety first and wait until extra time to go for the win or do you steal the show with a 80th minute try? Obviously the Warriors players found the thought of the first option just a tad too boring for their liking after having contemplated this outrageous thought for a millisecond, preferring the much more enticing proposition of a length of the field try to Lance Hohaia to confirm their second away win of the season.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

After a scintillating win last week against Brisbane, the New Zealand Warriors have come back to earth with a thud today, losing to Manly 14-6 in a listless performance at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
Did they think it was going to happen all too easily after last week’s attacking frenzy? Or were they suffering physically from last week’s torrid affair? Could it be that Manly were just too good?
Possibly it was a combination of all three that were responsible for their downfall in front of 19230 fans looking for a repeat of last week’s performance. That the fans didn’t get their wish should not dampen their enthusiasm for a match that offered plenty in the form of a seesawing tight battle.
Granted, it took forty-four minutes for the match to awaken from its slumber, after Jerome Ropati levelled the scores at 6-6 after having split the Manly defence forty out and raced away to dive over in the left corner.
The first half had been dominated more by a plethora of penalties, as well as a constant stream of dropped ball from both sides, than any magnificent attacking class. It made for a rather stilted affair. Neither team could gain any momentum. No sooner had one side or the other been awarded a penalty and the chance to march into their opposite’s territory, than they would spill the ball.
It took until the 18th minute for the first points to come. When they did, it was Manly who indulged in this game’s rare art of try scoring. Spreading the ball wide to their left side attack, they managed to bring in Warriors wing Kevin Locke and put Michael Robertson on his outside, to dive over in the corner and give Manly a 4-0 lead.
Despite being down to twelve men due to Ben Farrar being sin binned for a professional foul on rookie Warriors winger Bill Tupou after Tupou had made haste with a fifty metre run down his left touchline, Manly survived this ten minute spell. Prospered in fact, as they were awarded a penalty after Wade McKinnon was pinged for backchat. Jamie Lyon kicked the penalty goal with ease and Manly led 6-0. Yakety yak, don’t talk back.
After levelling the score with Ropati’s try, the Warriors problem was not that they had got themselves back in the match; more that Manly lifted their intensity another notch or three, too.
So it was game on.
Both teams went at each other with absolute vigour from this point onwards. Mainly it was through the middle of the park. There wasn’t much offloading to be seen and very few lines breaks from either side. The defence was mighty on the part of both sides. They both spent time hammering away at each other’s goal line, but to no avail in the main.
The one exception to the rule was in the 68th minute, leading 8-6 after a second Jamie Lyon penalty goal, Manly put the game out of the reach of the Warriors with a try to Steve Matai. Matai had chased through after a Kieran Foram grubber kick to dive on the pill beside the left upright. The referee went to the video ref who, despite good evidence to the contrary, judged that Matai had got downward pressure on the ball and awarded a dubious try to him. With the conversion, Manly had a 14-6 lead and that is where it stayed.
Other than the defence there wasn’t a lot to write home about for the Warriors. Nineteen year old debutant Bill Tupou had his feet dipped into the great big melting pot that is the NRL. He didn’t get too many chances but when there was a crumb or two come his way, he handled the heat with relative ease, and did enough to suggest that he was not out of place amongst the elite of the game.