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.
Their dream of playing finals football this season just got that little bit harder.