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.