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.