Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stand up you New Zealand Warriors, take a bow and be immensely proud of a defensive effort that was as stunning as it was courageous. To spend the entire second half on the back foot defending against the competition’s second placed team in the form of the Penrith Panthers was a mighty effort.
Your opposition threw everything at you, including the kitchen sink. They tried to bomb you often and you defused them with aplomb. They tried to get around the edges of your defence by putting the ball through the hands, but you held your ground. They offloaded in the tackle more and more as the match progressed, but you stood firm, winning 12-6.
Time and time again, with only a 12-6 lead at half-time, you defended your try line with the tenacity of a team desperate to be part of finals football. You threw your bodies at the invading Panthers with no thought for your own safety, nor did you stop to entertain the prospect that any of you may have no energy left after having made fifty more tackles than the home side. And that’s what made it even more remarkable; you were playing away in front of a hostile crowd, as well as being on the receiving end of an 11-3 penalty count.
By the 70th minute you were all out on your feet. Understandable, really. Yet, to a man, you kept throwing every last bit of physical exertion you had left to use into the cause. Just when it looked like a Penrith attacker was going to score the match equalling try, one of you, sometimes more, would come from nowhere with a steely determination to prevent losing the lead that you had so zealously protected.
Whether it was the experienced campaigner in Michael Luck making his fifty-seven tackles or Sione Lousi in only his third game for the Warriors, you all had the desire to stand alongside your mates and play for each other.
When you did get a few scraps to attack with, you were too tired to do anything meaningful in that attack. But, that’s okay, we all understand. And you still gave it your all, even if it only meant gaining three metres before being pummelled by a swarm of Penrith tacklers. There was Ian Henderson in the dying stages of the game, combative as ever, finding some energy from we don’t know where, making a few valuable metres here and there. It must have come from within. For how else could the seventeen of you withstand such an onslaught?
Some people don’t think you will make the top eight. But, then a lot of those same folk didn’t think you could beat Penrith today. Keep this up and there will be plenty of them with egg on their face. Hey, play like this and you might even make the top four. If you are going to show this kind of form each week from here on in, no doubt you will be right up there in the finals mix come mid September.
Not only did you show your strong mental fortitude on defence, but in the first half you displayed the ability to take heed of a superb game plan from your coach Ivan Cleary, and then put it into practice. You spent the good majority of the opening stanza going straight up the middle of the park with quick play the balls helping your worthy cause.
You only made two errors for the entire first forty minutes. That combined with the aforementioned tactics worked a treat. It gave Lewis Brown an opportunity in the 13th minute to bust the defensive line of Penrith, run twenty metres before passing to James Maloney to finish the movement off by dotting down under the crossbar. A marvellous effort.
Even better came along nine minutes later when stand-off Issac John put up a high kick on the last tackle and Manu Vatuvei chased through, retrieved the ball on the full and dived over in the left corner.
So you have attacking options there, too. Your last tackle kicking option in Maloney had a splendid time as well, finding space on all of his kicks in the first half. Which, backed up a by a vibrant chase from teammates gave Penrith fullback and danger man Lachlan Coote little room to operate.
It had looked at half-time, what with you having dominated for a good proportion of the half and only having a six point lead that Penrith would have a psychological advantage going into the second half, particularly as they scored only two minutes out from the break. But in the end it was you that were the tougher.
So, I bet there is a fair amount of self-belief in you now, isn’t there? There should be.
You have earned the right to go into the last eight rounds of the normal season, while knowing it is always going to be tough, that you have what it takes to give this competition a thoroughly good shake up.

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