There’s only one possible explanation for the injury woes of the New Zealand Warriors; they’re cursed.
That curse has struck again today at Mt Smart Stadium as Brent Tate, up against his old mate Wayne Bennett’s St George team, was forced from the field midway through the first half with a season ending injury in the form of a broken jaw. Fate hasn’t treated him well as he was more than likely going to be selected for Queensland in State of Origin two. No mate against mate for him, but before he departed the scene he was responsible for opening up the try scoring gate for the Warriors in their 22-20 loss to the Dragons. A crunching tackle on Ben Creagh, not a moment too late, knocked the ball loose for James Maloney to scoop up and dash thirty metres to score.
It gave his side a 6-0 lead but may yet prove to be Tate’s last act as a Warrior as he has yet to re-sign for 2011.
The rather inclement weather that had forged its way into Auckland should have put paid to any thoughts of expansive football on the part of both sides. However, somebody forgot to tell the players that wet slippery conditions makes percentage play a more effective means of strategy. Which explained the low completion rates during the first half.
Neither side could gain any momentum. This was understandable for the Warriors as they were battling into a strong southerly. Other than their penchant for trying offloads in unsuitable conditions, they showed real determination on defence which would have cheered coach Ivan Cleary after last week’s drubbing at the hands of West Tigers.
On the flipside of the coin, St George surprisingly failed to use the wind to their advantage. Apart from one 40/20 from standoff Jamie Soward, they rarely kicked early in the tackle count to force the Warriors to do even more work off their own goal line. If anything, it was the Warriors who were gaining ground easier.
And with a error from Ben Hornby on his own goal line, it opened up an opportunity for the home side as they were gifted two points as the Dragon’s were penalised in front of their own posts. Which Maloney duly converted.
With an 8-0 lead after twenty nine minutes events were looking highly promising for the locals. The scent of an upset was hanging in the air. Alas, it was not to be, as St George had other notions of what would be a fulfilling result for the match.
The comeback route was first entered in the 39th minute as Soward kicked on the last tackle for winger Jason Nightingale to retrieve the ball on the full and dive over for the touchdown in the right side corner. Amazingly, Soward converted from the sideline in what were atrocious conditions for goal kickers.
At 8-0 ahead coach Cleary clearly would have been fairly pleased with his side’s position, but with only a two point lead going into halftime, he would have been wary of the Dragons despite playing with the wind in the second half.
He would have been right to be wary, too, as St George came out firing in the second stanza. It only took two minutes to for them to gain the lead as Matt Cooper busted through weak defence by Kevin Locke and Lewis Brown to score in the left corner. Again Soward found a way to convert and the dragons had the lead for the first time.
If you don’t reach for the stars you won’t achieve star status. This was not a problem for Warriors captain Simon Mannering in the 48th minute as he climbed high above the overcrowding of players surrounding him to regather an Issac John chip into the St George in goal area and come back down from space to regain the lead for his side 14-12.
It didn’t last long though as Cooper went over for his second try of the day five minutes later. Soward the achieved the rare feat for him of actually missing a conversion.
What he didn’t miss, however, was a chance to stroll through a gaping hole in the Warriors defence in the 58th minute and advance the game in the right direction for St George. With his conversion, the Dragons held an eight point lead which in the conditions proved too hard for the Warriors to close.
It didn’t stop them trying as Kevin Locke, who to this point had had a very quiet day, ran from dummy half and busted through the defence before passing on the inside to Issac John who scooted away to score under the crossbar. It was quite enough though as St George, aided by three penalties over the final ten minutes was able to spend a majority of that time firmly ensconced in the Warriors half.
Despite the loss, the Warriors are still close enough if they are good enough to play finals football this year. Their defence, on the whole, was superb and they played with true grit for the full eighty minutes.
With the return of some their injured stars they could still be a force to be reckoned with.