Monday, August 30, 2010

By the end of the 2009 NRL season I thought there was more chance of Paris Hilton’s soon to be drug addled brain coming up with a viable solution to solving the sizable Middle East peace issues than there was of Ivan Cleary being the right person to coach the New Zealand Warriors. Wouldn’t get them to the top eight let alone a grand final this year, I had decided at the time.
Well, I was wrong. I got it all so wrong. That’s right, wrong. Cleary has put in a masterful performance in getting his side into finals football. That he has taken what was a rabble of a team at the end of 2009 and turned them into a serious finals contender says a lot about his coaching ability.
He admitted earlier this year that he and his coaching team had got the fitness routine wrong. He has shown admirable qualities by admitting he made mistakes, and then setting about not repeating those same errors. To put an Oscar Wilde slant on it: it may be considered a misfortune to make a mistake once, but to repeat it just seems like carelessness. In this case one could hint at it been even worse than that. Well, Cleary has shown himself to be a smart operator by not slipping into such a careless method of thinking. Instead, he didn’t panic and calmly set about righting what went wrong.
What’s more, he has had to negotiate his way through this season with a litany of injuries. Quite possibly, the Warriors have had the worst injury toll of any of the sixteen clubs. Not only have that, but almost all of the sidelined players been Cleary’s star playing staff. At various stages he has been without Simon Mannering, Brent Tate, Manu Vatuvei, Brett Seymour and Sam Rapira. This list doesn’t even take into account the loss of Steve Price who has had to retire without playing one match in 2010.
So Cleary has achieved what are undeniably fine results with at times a young inexperienced side. Which one cannot deny bodes well for future seasons, regardless of what happens from here on in during the upcoming final’s series. He now has a more than adequate halves pairing in Seymour and James Maloney at his disposal. Both possess extremely handy kicking games, and have enhanced their side’s attacking credentials. And in Maloney, Cleary has the added benefit of a reliable goal kicker.
Throw into the mix of ingredients for next year Feleti Mateo and for the first time since the great Ali Lauatiti, the Warriors will soon have a ball playing second rower. With Cleary’s apparent calm demeanour, Mateo will more than likely give this side the x-factor it needs to become one of the true heavyweights of the competition.
All this aside, let’s not forget that this season has not faded out for the Warriors. They are a team on the way up and appear to peaking at the right time of the year. The young players have had to stand up and take more responsibility due to the injuries suffered, which will no doubt stand them in good stead for September football. As a team they have improved their defence under Cleary immeasurably. In past seasons they have been known for their flamboyant attacking style but not always for their defensive fortitude. Well Cleary has well and truly changed that. They are now one of the more formidable defensive units in the competition. And as they showed against Brisbane in the weekend, when the forwards go straight up the middle of the park and set a substantial and solid platform, then the backs are very much capable of making line breaks that can lead to a phlethora of points. So the attack is there when the opportunity presents itself.
And, it seems too, that in Cleary the players trust. That they, in general, play well, would suggest a team that have faith in their coach.
So, the immediate future is looking good with the real possibility of Cleary’s men delving deep into the soon to be contested final’s month. And if it is not meant to be this season, then there is a realistic hope that with Cleary at the helm and continuing the good work that he has been doing, then the Mt Smart faithful are in for a lot of happy times over the next few years.
By the way, just to reiterate; I was WRONG. Ivan Cleary, you have done a fantastic job.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Before a fearsomely raucous crowd of 21,627 baying for the blood of the Brisbane Broncos, the New Zealand Warriors produced a scintillating first half performance that put the result beyond doubt by half-time.
A further forty minutes later they had secured a 36-4 victory in their last home match of the regular season, and brought finality to their entry into this year’s final’s series. It was pulsating nonstop action, so be prepared to be dazzled by a seven tries to one extravaganza by the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium tonight.
They had come mentally switched on, knowing that a win would guarantee a final’s berth. So too had Brisbane, but for them the evening was about to take on dire consequences for their aspirations of playing September football as they began to wilt under the Warriors ferocious onslaught.
A rip-snorting try scoring exhibition such as this can only be produced after an initial prelude of forceful domination by one’s forwards, though. This the Warriors pack did with aplomb. None more so than twenty year old prop Russell Packer who showed no thought at all for self preservation as he willingly hurtled himself at the Brisbane defensive unit, time after time sending defenders scuttling. When he and his fellow mates in the forwards along with wing Manu Vatuvei- who also took it upon himself leave a litany of carnage behind him as he also produced a series of hard hitting ball carries- weren’t amusing themselves by softening the visitors up with their cogent endeavours, the whole team was finding productive ways to release their inner enforcer with some tremendous defence in the opening quarter. Not just on their own line either, but, also constant gang tackles in the Broncos red zone.
Eventually the pressure told on the Broncos side, for in the 13th minute Vatuvei soared high above his opposite number Jaral Yow Yeh to claim a fifth tackle bomb from Brett Seymour and procure his side’s first points of the night in the left corner.
The Warriors kept the pressure on over the next eight minutes gaining the match’s first penalty and shortly after forcing Brisbane into a goal line drop-out. Shortly after, Yow Yeh was back in the thick of things as he knocked on from a bomb in his own twenty metre zone. This was the Warriors cue to pounce gleefully on some splendid field position as Lewis Brown in the 21st minute runs left from dummy half on the diagonal through an inordinately large cavity in the Broncos defence to touchdown five metres in from the left sideline. As with the first try, James Maloney missed the conversion, but, at 8-0 ahead, things were looking highly promising.
That promise turned into something even more substantial four minutes later as Brown this time was on the receiving end of some ingenious work from hooker Aaron Heremia who had looked devoid of options on the last tackle. As a last resort, looking around for some help, he spotted Vatuvei roaming wide on the left side of the field, so employing the judicious use of his kicking game, he put a cross field kick in for Vatuvei to swoop on and pass on the inside to late replacement for Joel Moon, Jerome Ropati who offloaded to Brown who dived over five metres wide of the left upright.
If the Warriors playing staff were over the moon with a fourteen point lead, a further four minutes down the time line that is life, they would have been delirious with happiness as they found Captain Simon Mannering barging over in the right corner of the northern end of the ground.
At 18-0 down it wasn’t looking good for the Broncos. They did however begin to gather some helpful servings of possession over the next five minutes, thanks largely to a run of penalties in their favour. This was their chance to fight their way back into the match. But an inexperienced side that was missing Darren Lockyer simply could not handle the intensity with which the Warriors played. Not having the ball did not deter the home side, one bit. Instead they took great pride in keeping their line intact with some stinging defence. A superb effort, it was, as they forced Brisbane halfback Peter Wallace to knock-on. To compound his error, he had a momentary lapse in judgement as he talked back to the referee, thus being penalised for backchat. The frustration was starting to tell on the Broncos, and the locals were only two happy to take advantage of Brisbane’s misfortune.
There is none better at capturing the moment than Brent Tate either, as he easily snapped the defensive blade of Matt Gillette and cast his way along the western touchline with an ever increasing ferocity before passing back on the inside to Lance Hohaia who went on to score under the crossbar. With Maloney’s conversion, the Warriors had an unreachable lead of 24-0.
There was to be no way back for Brisbane and there would be no looking back for the Warriors. They had obtained their goal of a finals berth with half the match still to go.
Forty minutes of complete football on their part. They had put in a professional performance of doing the basics first. Good metres up the middle of the ruck, quick play the balls, and most importantly, they had made sure the fort was fully fortified with desirable defensive qualities.
The challenge for them now was to go on with the job and rack up a big score, setting in motion some rapid momentum for the coming weeks of a higher intensity foray into final’s footy.
Take long, it didn’t, for them to further enhance their tally of memorable plays for the highlights package. And what better participant could you think of to score the try of the match other than the club’s longest serving player in Lance Hohaia? That’s right, there isn’t one. Now, Hohaia is not one for dilly dallying around, it seems. When given the scope to further add to his already impressive career list of try scoring feats, this is a man that just can’t say no. This we all found out in the 49th minute as he scooped the ball up on his own forty metre line and took great delight in humiliating the Broncos defence by galloping his way through the middle of the ruck past four bystanders. Not only did he manage to make his adversaries look decidedly amateurish, he then put a chip kick over Yow Yeh-who by this stage had been banished to fullback after having failed to contain Vatuvei on the wing- regathering, to dive over for the try just to the side of the left upright.
At 30-0 down the Broncos looked dispirited and it showed in their play. There were passes going astray, dropped ball that would not be expected at Toyota cup level. Israel Folau was the only attacking weapon to look likely of troubling the Warriors. Even when Folau did manage to break through the Warriors defences they always showed the desperation to put a halt to Folau’s attacking tricks.
Once they had soaked up what little pressure Brisbane could throw at them, they once again went to work and demonstrated their own scoring proclivities by having Ben Mautalino romp over to dot down by the right upright in the 58th minute.
With a 36-0 lead it was no surprise that the spark faded from the night’s pursuits over the final quarter of the match.
In fact Coach Ivan Cleary took the opportunity over the last ten minutes of proceedings to rest key players such as Mannering and Vatuvei.
This opened the way up for Yow Yeh to score a consolation try with three minutes of the game remaining. Not that it would have meant much to the visitors as they could see their final’s hopes fading faster than Nero could light a fire.
For the Warriors though, they have now given themselves an outside chance of a top four finish. With a for and against of plus thirty-nine, a big win against Parramatta next week along with other results going their way and they may yet get to entertain their fans at Mt Smart again this season.

NZ Warriors 36(L Brown 2 L Hohaia 2 S Mannering B Matulino M Vatuvei tries J Maloney 4 goals)Brisbane 4(J Yow Yeh try)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Opportunities don’t always come along as regularly as some would like. So when they do it pays to take them as the New Zealand Warriors found out this evening in their 19-16 loss to Manly at Brookvale Oval tonight.
With the score tied at sixteen-all with fifteen minutes left to play, the Warriors had chances to attempt a field goal on two occasions. Instead they opted to go for the try each time. It was to no avail though, as they botched their efforts. On one such occasion, Joel Moon attempted to offload on the second tackle, only to lose the ball forward. Not the percentage play, especially when a field goal was begging to be kicked. In the end it was two competition points that got away from them.
In a tight match where points were at a premium the obvious option was to consolidate their position with a one pointer and force Manly to play catch up football. At least most would have thought so. Instead, they now have left themselves in a position of having to secure one more win to clinch a finals berth, thus ensuring that next Friday’s game against Brisbane takes on added significance in their eager search for some fulfilling September football action.
It’s not that the Warriors played badly. On the contrary, there were plenty of positives to come out of the match for the visitors. Their forwards created some admirable go forward. The kicking game was nothing but fantastic. And even though they did not win, they continue to play well away from home. In the past this has been one of the major concerns for the club.
While they did have a slow start, after twenty minutes they began to forge ahead and gradually push back the enemy forces. There was the odd grenade lobbed in their direction by Manly which put some minor dents in their armoury, but in the 23rd minute the Warriors decided to raid, plunder and generally run amok. On the 5th tackle James Maloney put up a mistimed bomb which Manly failed to clean up leaving the steeden available for Bill Tupou to pillage from his opposite number and offload to Captain Simon Mannering who passed on the inside for Maloney to navigate his way through the Manly defensive line to dot down and give his side an 8-6 lead after the conversion.
Manly attempted a fight back to regain lost territory with some surges up the middle of the ruck over the next five minutes. Anthony Watmough in particular was making impressive darting sorties with the Warriors defensive units having trouble containing him.
This led to a try to Tony Williams in the 29th minute in the right corner after Manly had gone wide and Glenn Stewart threw a superb one handed pass to Williams. At 10-8, Manly must have thought that they had repelled the Warriors forward movement and severed the visitor’s ties with any form of momentum.
But, it was not to be as the Warriors regained the initiative with a four pointer to Mannering.
Goodbyes can be difficult for many people. Not Mannering, though, who without a moment's hesitation bid a rather hostile adieu to Stewart with a fine fend and headed towards the prosperity that is the opposing side’s in-goal area, all the while treating some of the local inhabitants with the absolute disdain usually attributed to the more repugnant elements of society as he charged straight through their lightly built fortifications to touchdown next to the left upright.
With the conversion to Maloney, the Warriors had a four point lead going into the break. This they increased to six in the 44th minute with a penalty goal to Maloney.
Even though the Warriors were the more dominant of the two sides for much of the second half, they couldn’t translate this into extra points. They looked to be dominating on several fronts. They were making ground up the middle of the ruck with relative ease. Defence, on the whole, was desperate and at times, brutal. The kicking game of Maloney was brilliant. And then there were the aforementioned windows of possibility for the winning the contest. Yet they could not crack Manly, try as they might.
Instead it was the home side that were responsible for accumulating the majority of points in the second half. First in the 47th minute when "T-Rex" Tony Williams went over for try number two of his individual tally, then with four minutes to go, standoff Trent Hodginson slotted a field goal to prise two valuable competition points away from the Warriors.
To add salt to the Warriors wounds, Manly captain Jamie Lyon kicked a last minute penalty goal to give his side a three point win.
The Manly faithful were in raptures, however, the Warriors players must have been left wondering what could have been.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So, twenty-eight points will get you into the finals, eh. That’s what everybody is saying. And you guys at the Warriors are on that so called magical number. But, this does not take into account point’s differential, and yours is currently plus two. Not too bad, but there are other teams around you on the table that have a healthier for and against than you.
Don’t be a stranger to the far superior accommodation that comes with a further two competition points, will you. Come out this weekend against Manly with your level of self-confidence inflated to its optimum capacity, thus allowing you to perform at the altitude that we all know you are capable of, all the while taking the splendid opportunity to nestle in to the strikingly cosy habitat offered up on thirty points.
This would eliminate a possible matchup with St George in week one of the finals, not to mention enhancing your chances of striding towards a top four finish in the regular season. A home final in week one would be nice, wouldn’t it?
Of course, to achieve this you first have to get a win over the former premiers. Though, you’ll need to improve on last weekend’s performance against the Newcastle Knights. But, then, I’m guessing that you already know this, don’t you.
It appeared against the Knights that you were down on your usual high standards. Mentally, you simply didn’t look like you were hyped up to the level needed. You weren’t over-confident after a fine display against Cronulla the previous week, were you? Remember, there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence being where you treat the opposition with the utmost respect, yet still believe in your ability to achieve what you are aiming for. Arrogance, as you would be aware of, is where you don’t take the opposing team seriously enough.
Perhaps this lack of mental ferocity on the day led to some of the mistakes that you would not usually commit such as missing touch from a penalty. There were errant passes and handling errors that would not normally committed. But just think, you pulled off a win against a side that played like their season was on the line (it was) and you did it when operating well below your best. Which it has to be said, seems to be grounds for optimism, wouldn’t you say?
As with most things in life, there was some good in your performance. Despite not being at your best you still managed to pull off a win. Your defence was of miserly proportions once again. Of the last seven matches, you have conceded no more than ten points on five of those occasions. So you continue to deliver when it comes to defence. Which you will need to continue on with against Manly.
They may no longer be the force they were in 2008, but they are still a highly competent side as well as being an extremely desperate one too. If the Sea Eagles lose this weekend their hopes of a top four finish will more than likely be extinguished. They won’t even be a certainty to secure a top eight spot. Surely added motivation for you to put out the flame of a finals contender and potentially disencumber yourselves of a possibly dangerous foe come finals time.
And you will be helped along by the fact that you will more than likely have a settled team on Saturday at Brookvale Oval. The only question mark is over the fitness of hooker Ian Henderson, who has an ankle injury, though he will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness. If he fails in his race to be in suitable shape for the match, this will mean only limited disruption to your combinations. And you do have Lance Hohaia as a potential replacement for Henderson, with the enticing prospect of Kevin Locke coming back into the team in his preferred position at fullback.
You have Manu Vatuvei in ominous try scoring form and itching to inflict as much damage on his opponents as is humanly possible.
Now all there is to find out is just how badly you want that top four spot come September.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pretty to watch, it wasn’t. What it was, though, was a gutsy display by the New Zealand Warriors today at Mt Smart Stadium in their 22-10 victory over the Newcastle Knights.
Leading the way for the home side was Manu Vatuvei with a hat-trick to secure a unanimous points decision over his opposite number, Aquila Uate, in their eagerly anticipated match-up. Three tries for Vatuvei today, three for left wing Bill Tupou- who chimed in with one today- last week; what is it with these wingers, haven’t they heard that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins? Mind you, certainly Coach Ivan Cleary will be encouraging them to keep committing sins of such magnitude if this is to be the result each week.
That Vatuvei has now scored twenty-three tries in his last twenty outings leaves no room for doubt that without him the Warriors job each week would be significantly more difficult. It most surely would have been today without The Beast as Newcastle came with their minds well and truly on the job. Needing to win to have any hope of remaining in the hunt for a final’s spot, they threw all they had at the locals.
In the end it wasn’t enough, but, they were in the match for the majority of the eighty minutes.
The Warriors were once again strong on defence, but didn’t fire up on attack particularly well. Added to the mix were some handling errors that were out of character, as well as basics of the game such as finding touch from penalties, which on one particular occasion in the case of James Maloney, did not happen.
That said though, the sign of a good team is one that may be off their game against a desperate opposition, yet still finds a way to win. Which the Warriors duly showed they could achieve.
That strong defence was what kept them in the match early on, as Newcastle- helped by a strong northerly- hammered away at the Warriors goal line. The home side, though, toughed those opening minutes out before forcing the Knights onto the defensive. With the help of a penalty, and hot on attack in the Knights twenty, Brett Seymour sent the attack to the left side to Lance Hohaia who worked his magic with a tremendous cut out pass to Vatuvei. With Vatuvei’s innate ability to sense the opposing team’s try line, along with the added help of one hundred and ten kilo’s of pure beast to throw around, he barged his way into Newcastle’s in-goal area for the opening gambit.
4-nil ahead into a strong breeze was a satisfactory start to the day’s proceedings for the Warriors. What was not on their list of things to do, though, was to concede a try. But this they did nine minutes later in the 26th minute when former Warrior Cooper Vuna, on the first tackle, surprised the Warriors defence by getting on their outside and majestically storming his way down the left touchline on a forty metre escapade that ended with him diving over in the left corner for the equaliser.
Neither of the teams’ goal kickers in Maloney and Kurt Gidley were having any luck dealing with the strong wind. That was to change in the 37th minute when Maloney converted Vatuvei’s second try.
A 10-4 lead going into half-time was a solid effort for the Warriors considering the wind they were playing into. With the wind at their backs in the second half, one may have been tempted to think that they would run away with the match and assemble a rather large victory.
Unfortunately for them it didn’t occur that way. Instead it was the Knights who were the first to enter into the scoring fray when the Warriors usually reliable defence drifted into a temporary slumber, as Richie Fa’osoa offloaded in the tackle to Daniel Tolar, who dotted down under the crossbar. With the conversion, the score was shackled at 10-all and the match was there for the taking.
It was the Warriors who decided to take the bull by the horns and gather some momentum. With a 55th minute penalty goal to Maloney, and slowly getting the better of the Knights having dominated possession for the five minutes, they were able to put Vatuvei over in the left corner in the 63rd minute for his third try.
Twelve minutes later, they put the finishing touches on the match to seal the win with a try to Tupou. What it also sealed was the likelihood of Newcastle missing out on final’s football for 2010 despite some good form over the last six weeks.
For the Warriors, they showed they can win matches with their defence.
They also showed how to win ugly. It’s those types of performances that build character for finals football.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Well done to you fellas at the New Zealand Warriors. You have got your campaign for a final’s spot back on track with a win against the Cronulla Sharks last Saturday night. With a performance that is worthy of high praise for the clinical way that you disposed of what was a potentially dangerous competitor. A loss against the Sharks and you could have been staring down the barrel of NRL finals oblivion for 2010. But, you did a fine job of arresting a two match losing streak.
What we all want to know, though, is this: which team is going to turn up for the rest of the season? Is it the professional outfit that put the Sharks away and went on a five match winning streak recently? Or the one that leaked sixty-six points against the Gold Coast and South Sydney in the previous two weeks?
Okay, admittedly you were up against two decent units in the Titans and South’s, and no one expects that you are going to be able to win every game in what is an extremely tight competition. Still, you were clearly off your game in those matches at a crucial period of the season when momentum is everything.
We just want to know that this was a temporary aberration, and that you will come down the home straight with the wind in your sails. You’ll need to, as well. What with a tough run over the last four weeks of the regular season, it is crucial that you continue to erect your form to sinister levels for your remaining matches against Newcastle, Brisbane, Manly and Parramatta. Two wins and you will have secured a spot in the top eight, that’s for sure. But feel free to forge your way to at least three wins against the above mentioned teams, hence, more than likely confirming a home match in the first week of the finals.
Against Cronulla, you soaked up the pressure during the first twenty minutes in which you showed us all that you were recovering your defensive abilities that you had displayed in your five match winning streak. Which was a splendid effort because Cronulla certainly threw everything they had in their attacking weaponry, your way.
Good teams can soak up the pressure and then, when the opportunity occurs, heap it right back on their foe. That’s what you did against Cronulla.
To be able to withstand the pressure for a sustained period, then turn it around and apply the blowtorch to your opposition, racking up a sizable total in the process was an inspiring effort. That must have been one of the most pleasing aspects for you: not just the defence, but as the match progressed your attack began to show more fluency. Swift ball movement when you had Cronulla stretched to the limit combined with good angles run by decoy runners. Not to forget that you finished these moves off with accuracy.
None more so than young right wing Bill Tupou. Hadn’t scored a try in nine first grade appearances, had Bill. Then, all of a sudden, he breaks his try scoring drought with a hat trick. And he’s not even the first choice in his position. Maybe having quality backup is starting to make you all go that little bit further to procure your place in the team, each week. This, of course, means that the likes of Tupou have to work even harder for their opportunity. And when they do, this is the result.
But don’t rest on your laurels, Bill. One good game does not a season make. You have a start now so please do your utmost to keep up the hard work and furnish your try scoring collection when the opportunities arise.
Don’t hesitate to dismiss the ridiculous criticism from their coach Shane Flannigan and captain Paul Gallen that you didn’t play well. Sour grapes on their part, that they lost and that their own season has long since gone done the gurgler, more than likely. Or is it possible that your performance was more impressive than they would care to admit? And that maybe the Australians are starting to get a touch worried that you are more of a threat than they thought you were going to be this season. After all, they wouldn’t want the NRL trophy heading over this side of the ditch, as well as the world cup. That would be just too much for them to bear, wouldn’t it.
If that is the case, take confidence from it, but remember, Newcastle this weekend will not be a walk in the park. They are coming off some fine form with two wins on the trot, and have a class player in Captain Kurt Gidley running their side from halfback. Not only Gidley, but Akuila Uate on the wing, who is the leading try scorer in the NRL this season with twenty. Lay a solid foundation up the middle of the ruck early on, and his effectiveness is diminished. You young Warriors props have got that in you haven’t you?
You have the same seventeen selected again this week that did the job so successfully against Cronulla. Which will be good for your combinations. That should help against a side that has to win to stay in contention for a top eight side. One loss and Newcastle-due to a negative point’s differential- are gone for the season. So you can be sure that they will show even more desperation than what they would normally.
But, that won’t bother you in the Warriors outfit, will it?
Surely it is just more of a challenge for a team that showed last weekend that they capable of launching a finals raid of significance.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

There has been a right wing conspiracy at Toyota Stadium in Sydney tonight as right wing Bill Tupou scored a hat trick in the New Zealand Warriors 37-10 win over the Cronulla Sharks.
Having not scored a try in his previous nine first grade appearances Tupou emphatically broke his try scoring drought in a breakthrough performance. He scored them all in the space of a twenty-three minute period in the second half to finish off what had been a lively performance from the Sharks.
Even though his side had procured themselves a fourteen point lead over the Sharks, it wasn’t until Tupou’s three try effort, that the Warriors clinched the win. Now his coach Ivan Cleary has been put in the envious position next week, of having to select from Tupou and Kevin Locke, who is returning from injury.
It contributed to a clinical manifestation of error free football from the Warriors. A completion rate of ninety-three percent was phenomenal considering their eagerness to offload the ball at every window of opportunity that arose to them. That they combined this with a proclivity to attack the Sharks up the centre of the ruck meant that they were able to form a lasting relationship with the lead during the match. Not to mention the fact that the fearsome defence of their five match winning streak was back with a vengeance.
Which was fortunate for them as the Sharks displayed an attacking fortitude that certainly did not resemble the classless, lacking in talent bunch that they are so often passed off as.
In fact, it was the Sharks that looked the better of the two sides over the opening exchanges of the contest. They constantly went to the edges in an effort to find space and a way of putting the Warriors out of their comfort zone. That the visitors held Cronulla out with a sterling defensive effort over the first ten minutes was a credit to them.
Not long after, they pounced, when, in the 16th minute, standoff James Maloney spotted an opening for some points scoring entertainment when he put a grubber kick into Cronulla’s in-goal area for Brent Tate to chase through and dive on, hence, opening the scoring.
While the Warriors defence had been superb thus far, it was no match for a penetrating charge through their defences by Sharks fullback Nathan Gardner who blasted his way into Warriors territory before passing on his inside to his captain Trent Barrett, who managed to impel his aging legs forty metres for a try that put his side on level pegging with the Warriors.
At 6-6 the match could have gone either way. As it happens, Aaron Heremia had ideas of his own on how proceedings should take their course. That route involved him running from dummy half in the 32nd minute on a diagonal run towards the Sharks left upright before passing to Maloney on his inside to score under the crossbar. With the conversion and a penalty goal by Maloney on the stroke of half-time, the Warriors were starting to gain the ascendency with a 14-6 lead.
That lead was enlarged in the 47th minute when Joel Moon was awarded a dubious try by video referee Chris Ward. Brett Seymour had put the ball high to Manu Vatuvei’s left wing on the 5th tackle. Though it appeared that Vatuvei had knocked the ball forward, Ward ruled that the “Beast” had not touched the ball and gave the Warriors the benefit of the doubt. After that call, someone should have given Ward the benefit of a doubt.
Cronulla’s resistance came to an end at this stage and prompted the Warriors to rack up a significant score in their search for a positive points differential in the hope that it would enhance their finals hopes. They didn’t quite manage this, but did improve it from negative 29 to negative 2.
And this was where Tupou entered the equation with his heroics. First, in the 51st minute after his accomplices had made the most of a mistake by Gardner and spread the ball wide to Tupou’s wing for him to dive over in the right corner. Maloney was having a fine day with the boot, that’s for sure, converting from the sideline and snatching his fourth goal from four so far in the contest.
Despite their attack looking a little shaky in the first quarter of the fixture, slowly but surely, it was gelling more as the clock progressed. By the 60th minute it was positively humming along as they once again distributed the ball out to Tupou to weave his magic and again make the right corner his own personal domain, as he dived over for his second try.
It got even better for him in the 74th minute as he snatched lost ball away from his namesake Anthony Tupou, then running twenty metres to touchdown ten metres wide of the right upright.
Just to top off a bodacious day’s work, the Warriors, on another attacking raid in the Sharks half, finished off the scoring frenzy with a field goal to Maloney.
Which put an end to an impressive effort on the part of the Warriors. While the Sharks cannot be labelled one of the great teams of our time, the Warriors still put in a complete performance. Their defence was back to its best. The attack showed signs of a more lively pulse than it has for some time. And some injured players of importance are close to being back on the park.
Sam Rapira made a surprise return and next week for the first time in a long time, with Locke and Jerome Ropati back, the Warriors will be at full strength.
This bodes well for them, as they attempt to close in on a top eight spot against Newcastle next week.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday afternoon, a wet cold day prevails at Mt Smart Stadium during which the Gold Coast Titans as well as a strong north-westerly endeavour to blow the winds of change through the New Zealand Warriors finals aspirations. In part, they succeeded too, with a 28-20 victory over the home side which has now left the Warriors needing to win three, possibly four, of their remaining matches in the regular season. Twenty-eight points may get some teams a finals berth, but, due to a negative point’s differential, the Warriors are now in the unenviable position of having to win more than they lose over the next five weeks. Not an easy proposition in a tight competition against desperate opposition.
With an attack that looked bereft of notions of suitable attacking ideals, it is hard to see where the required wins are going to come from. Sure, they can score the odd try from Manu Vatuvei collecting bombs. But, other than that, the only participant in their side that looked likely to spark anything in attack was Lance Hohaia.
Despite all this, early on it did look like they were going to ensnare their eleventh win of the season after skipping out to a 12-0 lead with only fourteen minutes having passed by. First, in the 9th minute, when Captain Simon Mannering scored, having chased a grubber kick through, put into the Titan’s in-goal area by James Maloney, to claim the ball and dot down just to the side of the left upright.
Then, five minutes later, that little terrier of a player in Hohaia found himself in possession of the steeden. Not seeing any obvious gaps in the Titan’s defence, he crabbed across field twenty metres before spying an opportunity. Turning on the after-burners, Hohaia lanced his way through the opposition defensive line with a severe burst of acceleration whereupon finding himself free from parasitic hindrance he propelled his short of stature (but not short of talent) frame fifteen metres to dive over for a try five metres wide of the right upright.
Both tries were converted by Maloney and at 12-0 things were looking good for the locals. Though, with the strong wind behind them in the first half, it was imperative for the Warriors that they acquire themselves at least one more try scoring effort before half-time.
It wasn’t to be, though. For Titans Captain and play maker, Scott Prince, took his cue to enter the fray and start masterminding a comeback. That he had to resort to kicks to do this was a positive for the Warriors as their defence was generally good for the majority of the match. Having said that, a try is a try, no matter how it is achieved.
And in the 17th minute Steve Michael’s scored the first of two first- half tries for himself by chasing through a Prince grubber kick, gathering the pill in the Warriors in-goal to touchdown next to the uprights, giving the visitors some hope of a renaissance.
That the next seventeen minutes was punctuated by a series of handling errors from both sides was not one of the finer examples of fluent error free football to keep the casual observer enchanted with romantic sentiments of breathtaking end to end rugby league.
Thirty-four minutes after kick-off, though, Michael’s breathed some life back into proceedings, when he gathered the loose ball after Matt Rogers tapped back a Scott Prince bomb, to scamper twenty metres to put the Titans back on equal terms.
Twelve points apiece at the break was not the best of looks for the Warriors, who were facing the prospect of playing the remainder of the game into an increasingly stronger wind as time went on. Not that it stopped Vatuvei from out leaping former Warrior Clinton Toopi for a James Maloney bomb in the 43rd minute, to give his side a 16-12 lead.
So, things were looking all fine and dandy for the Warriors again and their fans would have been hoping that they could forge ahead in search of the start of another unbeaten run, not dissimilar to their recent five game winning streak.
This turned out to be a might on the hopeful side though, as it was in fact the Titans that finished the stronger of the two. The Titans then boosted up the pressure with some high percentage football kicking for territory and then pressuring the Warriors into making mistakes in their own half. Which the Warriors did.
A grateful Titans outfit were only too happy to make the most of the extra possession, piling on three tries. First, there was one to William Zillman who ran ninety metres to score and, then, two to veteran Matt Rogers. The third of these came in the 70th minute, leaving the Warriors ten minutes to launch a miraculous win at the death.
While they did manage one try in the 76th minute to Brett Seymour, Maloney missed the conversion, thus leaving themselves eight points adrift and needing two tries in the three minutes.
Alas, not.
Their dream of playing finals football this season just got that little bit harder.