Defence wins matches.
So it was at Mt Smart Stadium tonight as the New Zealand Warriors put in a mighty defensive effort to break a three game losing streak with a 24-12 win over the North Queensland Cowboys.
They constantly forced their opposites back in the tackle, forcing a high error rate from the Cowboys with knock-ons. And it was relentless.
With Manu Vatuvei and Brett Seymour back from injury, the Warriors appeared to be significantly more self assured as they went about procuring their fourth win of the season. Vatuvei only lasted forty-four minutes, injuring his calf muscle early in the game but soldiered on for as long as possible.
Still, his presence no doubt helped as his teammates played the game at pace up the middle of the park. Helped by an appalling completion rate on the part of the Cowboys, the Warriors piled on three first half tries.
The first, in the 10th minute, came on the back of some brutal defence on their part and a 40/20 from James Maloney. In modern sport we often hear coaches referring to things such as pathways to success. Ukuma Ta’ai decided that his pathway to success was straight up the middle of the ruck through numerous pests and parasites as he sallied his way forth to score under the crossbar.
There was to be no let up from the Warriors on this cool Auckland evening, as they continued to make good ground off each set of six, and kept the pressure on their opposition with some stinging defence, forcing even more mistakes from the Cowboys. They used the extra possession from these errors exceedingly well too.
While some will claim that their next two tries had a good portion of luck involved, it pays to remember that old tenet about luck being the residue of design.
This was the case in the 15th minute, where North Queensland winger John Williams knocked the ball forward. What was not luck on the part of the Warriors though, was the pin point kick from Seymour with two teammates putting pressure on Williams as he jumped for the ball. What’s more, Lewis Brown put himself in the right place at the right time to pounce on the loose ball and dive over for his side’s second converted try of the evening.
North Queensland had had a scintilla of possession to this point due to their poor ball handling. Things didn’t conspire to get any better for them either, as they marched along the first half constantly handing over possession to a grateful Warriors side. On the back of another Cowboys knock-on the Warriors put bench player Ian Henderson over for their third try in the 30th minute. Maloney converted and with an eighteen point buffer, 10800 Warriors fans could only be optimistic about their side’s outlook. The vista got even better in the 36th minute as Maloney kicked a penalty to take the lead out to twenty.
Hope springs eternal. And it seemed this was the case for North Queensland as their fortunes rotated to a more favourable position, allowing them the opportunity to part company with mediocrity and form an alliance with good field position. With a flood of penalties in the 48th minute, the weight of possession told on the Warriors and Jonathon Thurston, a late call up, put Scott Bolten into a gap with a fantastic short pass that Bolten converted into a four pointer. With Thurston’s conversion, there was still a flicker of hope for the Cowboys.
Their chances improved significantly three hundred seconds later when referee Ashley Klein awarded the Cowboys a penalty for a supposed elbow in the tackle by Ukuma Ta’ia. Replays showed no evidence at all of a misdemeanour on the part of Ta’ai.
It gave Thurston the opportunity to mastermind his side’s second try with a cut out pass to put Michael Bhani over in the left corner. With the conversion and the margin back to twelve, the Warriors had every right to be nervous. To their credit though, despite having been totally dominated during the third quarter, they fought back, turning the situation around and came down the home straight by far the stronger.
To put any thoughts of a comeback out of the minds of the Cowboy’s players, Kevin Locke scored from a superbly place last tackle cross field kick form Seymour in the 70th minute. Maloney couldn’t convert to give his side a fourteen point advantage, but even so, the Cowboys offered no threat over the last ten minutes.
Which means the Warriors have rediscovered that winning feeling. With Simon Mannering definitely back for next week’s match against South Sydney, he will add even more starch to a forward pack that showed toughness for the full eighty minutes. Sam Rapira was inspirational, leading the charge up the middle of the ruck and using opposing forwards as skittles to be bowled over.
The defence couldn’t be faulted. It was superb.
And if they can get the attack operating at the level it was over the opening month of the season, then things are looking up for the Warriors.