The New Zealand Warriors beat South Sydney at Mt Smart Stadium today-but it came at a huge cost in the form of a potentially season ending injury to prop Sam Rapira. Having contributed a mighty effort during the first half, he damaged his right knee with what is believed to be a rupture to his acl ligament. Not what the Warriors needed, just as they were getting their rather large injury toll under control.
They also played a large proportion of the match without stand-off James Maloney who received a bad knock to his lower back.
They played the second half with a two man bench and the last ten minutes with no interchanges left. With a 26-24 lead at this stage, the situation looked dire for the Warriors as South Sydney took up residence in the Warriors half and continually battered their goal line.
That the locals kept Souths scoreless over the final ten minutes was miraculous. It was a mighty defensive effort that they can be proud of. On several occasions Souths came within a couple metres of the Warriors goal line, but each time the defence was able to force an error from the visitors.
And then there were the likes of Brent Tate and Jerome Ropati to run from dummy half to help their tiring forwards out. For much of the match Tate made valuable metres out of dummy half and along with backrower Ukuma Ta’ia, were the best players on the park for the Warriors.
A completion rate of eighty-one percent also helped their cause, especially in the wet conditions that prevailed. That both sides found a way to put on a sparkling array of attacking football in such dismal weather was a credit to them.
And it only took three minutes for the Warriors to show their intentions as they sent Kevin Locke off on a selection enhancing run along the eastern sideline. That he wasn’t able to make the most of it was no fault of his own as Rhys Wesser brought him down with a high tackle. From the ensuing penalty, the Warriors spread the ball wide to the left side attack where Lance Hohaia- celebrating his 150th game for the club- darted through a gap in the defence to touchdown five metres in from the sideline. With the conversion from Brett Seymour it was a handy start for the Warriors.
The good work was to be undone eight minutes later as Ropati dropped the ball in front of his own goalposts. Souths made the most of it by putting Colin Best over to score to level at six a piece.
Despite Tate scoring in the 20th minute from a last tackle bomb, it was South Sydney who scored twice over the next ten minutes. Their big forwards looked to be gaining the upper hand with good metres up the middle of the ruck, thus giving hooker Issac Luke free rein to make breaks to his heart’s content. And this he did regularly, though, somehow the Warriors managed to keep Souths scoreless over the last ten minutes of the half.
At 18-10 down going into the break, it would have been a long way back for the Warriors. So, fortunately for them, in the 40th minute Ropati spotted a gap in Souths defence on one of his team’s sortie into enemy territory and snuck his way through to score in the left corner. So at 18-14 down at the break, there was still hope for the Warriors.
Despite Rapira’s injury early in the second half, the Warriors started the half at a great rate, scoring two converted tries within two minutes of each other. One to Ropati, his second of the evening, and the other to prop Russell Packer looked to have gained the Warriors the ascendancy and a chance to put the game beyond South Sydney’s reach.
It was not to be though, as South’s slowly clawed their way back into the match. By the 67th minute when Fetuli Talinoa went over for his second try of the night South’s were well on top and now only two points adrift of their foe. What they not counted on though, was a Warriors outfit determined to come away with their third home win of the season.
With the weight of possession going against them and now down to a two man interchange bench, they could have been forgiven for being overtaken by South’s. That they held out a strong finishing South’s with a particularly strong display of mental fortitude was encouraging to say the least. With Brett Seymour back at halfback consistently and organising the team, they will have the opportunity to build their attacking combinations.
This all bodes well for the remainder of the season.