Winter is fast approaching. And it is looking increasingly likely that it will be a long hard winter for the New Zealand Warriors as they went down to the Canberra Raiders 23-16 at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland tonight.
The Warriors, having lost their previous two matches by hefty margins, had 11499 expectant fans willing their team on, as they attempted to turn around their recent poor run of form. But it was to no avail. For Canberra appeared in Auckland with their game face on, and took the initiative from the get go.
With a strong wind at their backs, Canberra had complete control of the match over the first twenty-five minutes. They were inundated with sizable chunks of possession, and their attacking spirits could not contain their excitement as they emanated through cracks in the Warriors defence at will.
Not one error was produced by their young team. However, it was an error on the part of Warriors fullback Lance Hohaia that gifted Canberra winger Drury Low the first of his two tries in the 10th minute. Hohaia, having gathered the ball in his own twenty on the first tackle, instead of playing percentage football, decided to not only beat two defenders, but throw an unnecessary pass. As it went loose Low pounced on the loose ball and scored the easiest of tries under the crossbar.
While they were gifted that try, the next two efforts came about after a deluxe performance from their enormous forward pack. No fancy stuff here, just good solid yards made up the middle of the park. And the Warriors, try as they might, simply couldn’t handle the Canberra forwards.
In the 18th minute David Shillington ran onto an inside pass to steamroll his way over Hohaia to score five metres wide of the right upright. With Terry Campese’s second conversion of the night, Canberra had a prospering lead at 12-0.
It only got better three minutes later when Low crossed for his second try. At 16-0 things were looking ominous for the Warriors. It was looking a might doubtful as to whether the hill facing them was too high for them to reach the apex in time. Canberra had taken the crowd out of the equation who had entered their own private cone of silence. The Warriors did start climbing, though. After having been engulfed by a tidal wave of green attacking raids over the first half an hour, with some help from the chaos from the sky, they did slow their oppositions scoring rate. Even though they could not score themselves for the remainder of the half, they defended stoutly and kept Canberra scoreless over the final ten minutes.
If the Warriors future in the match had looked to be in dire straits during the first half, it didn’t take them long to mount a comeback in the second stanza. Two minutes, in fact, as Ukuma Ta’ia bulldozed his way over carrying two tacklers to touchdown twenty metres in from the eastern sideline. With James Maloney’s conversion and the wind now at their backs, a comeback looked to be evolving. And it was early enough that the sands of the glass allowed them time to plot an escape.
As time moves on, some things never change. While the change back to one main referee has impacted favourably on matches by giving more consistent rulings, the referees lecture is still in consistent use, by the bye. It achieves nothing- stop it.
What most would find difficult, James Maloney and Patrick Ah Van find comfortably achievable. As they displayed with consummate ease in the 58th minute as Maloney kicked for Ah Van’s wing on the last tackle. Ah Van time his run to perfection as he managed to grab the ball on the full one metre out from Canberra’s line and dive over to bring his team to within six points.
That was the end of the proliferation of their comeback however, as Maloney, on his side’s first set of six after Ah van’s try, kicked out on the full on the last tackle. This gave Canberra good field position. And they used it wisely as they decided to populate the Warriors red zone with one further try to put the result beyond doubt. If the outcome wasn’t already a foregone conclusion, halfback Marc Herbert sealed the win with a 72nd minute field goal to give Canberra a 23-10 lead.
That Brent Tate scored in the 78th minute was, by then, inconsequential. The match was already beyond them. The tor had proven to high a hurdle.
While it wasn’t a bad performance on their part, the Warriors of first five weeks of the competition seem to taken a wrong turn and missed the ground over the last three matches. The side on show currently, even allowing for the absence of Manu Vatuvei, have seemingly misplaced their confidence. Along with those missing levels of confidence, the offloads have dried up and taken an unneeded vacation. When they do appear briefly, they are tending to go to ground, whereas earlier in the season they were sticking.
This is a side that now looks torn between taking the ball one-up all day and the outfit that had a carefree attitude to offloading at will several weeks ago.
With the bye next week, they may wish to take some time to find that confidence.
Or it really will be a long season.