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)