Significantly different this finals football, isn’t it? A step up in intensity as well as a faster pace than some of you have ever experienced prior to this. Despite this, you blokes from the New Zealand Warriors gave it your all tonight up against the Gold Coast Titans at Skilled Park. You scored three tries, they scored five, and it showed as you were playing catch up football for the last twenty-five minutes of the first half, and at the back end of the match.
Sure, you had your moments, and one could have been forgiven for thinking that you were going to run away with the match, for during the opening fifteen minutes you had much the better of proceedings.
James Maloney made a tremendous try saving tackle on Titan’s winger Kevin Gordon early on. Once again Maloney was one of your best. Handles pressure well, doesn’t he. And he didn’t give away a penalty all night long. His kicking game was great for you; nearly gained a 40/20 on two occasions. But, not quite. All the same, some excellent metres were gained through his judicious use of the boot.
This was on the back of some fierce go forward as you directed your big forwards up the middle of the park. It paid handsome dividends as you gained large amounts of territory, too. Russell Packer led the way. So young, and yet plays well beyond his years. Just imagine how good this guy’s going to be in five years time. Not far behind were Captain Simon Mannering and Michael Luck. And what about Michael Luck, eh? Only three weeks ago he suffered one of the most horrendous leg gashes seen in the game of league when his left thigh was opened up so badly that it required fifty stitches. Wouldn’t play for the remainder of the season, some said. Yet, here he was, back after only three weeks. Tough as nails, he is. Balls bigger than basketballs, most would assume of this guy.
All this possession and you did what would be expected of any team in such a situation: you opened the scoring with a try to Aaron Heremia in the 7th minute. With the conversion to James Maloney, you had a 6-0 lead and looked like you were on your way to a home match in week two of the finals series.
But, you hit somewhat of a speed bump. A couple of penalties against you and a try to William Zillman in the 18th minute brought you all back to earth with a thud. For a time it seemed to take the stuffing out of you, as you seemed to be a touch on the flat side. The pace of the game looked to be taking its toll on you, as you were starting to miss tackles. None more so than in the 32nd minute as Zillman went over for his second try of the night and his side’s third. That he managed to bust through three tacklers and scoot away for a try ten metres wide of the left upright was not a glowing endorsement of your usually miserly defensive qualities. The 27026 strong crowd were in raptures.
Not long after, their delight became downright luminous, as in the 36th minute Matt Rogers had you all dumbfounded when he took an inside pass and run fifteen metres to score the Titan’s fourth try.
It wasn’t looking good for you at 22-6 down going into the break. But, to your credit, you came out in the second half and threw everything you had at the Titans. You began to gain momentum and gain a level of dominance over the locals. Two tries, one in the 48th minute to Jerome Ropati’s replacement Joel Moon, and then another to Manu Vatuvei -which gave “The Beast” the club try scoring record- in the 59th minute and it seemed that you were well and truly on your way back.
That was until Vatuvei undid all his good work by attempting to offload in an untenable position on the first tackle of an attacking set of six. This was not the first time that he has been guilty of such an act this season. Perhaps this is one of the few weaknesses in his game, currently.
What was worse for you was that this led to the Titan’s scoring in the next passage of play with a try in the left corner to Kevin Gordon. 28-16 to Gold Coast and this is where the score stayed.
You tried your mightiest for the remaining twenty minutes, but it seemed that the harder you pressed the worse you got. There were uncharacteristic errors from the likes of Lance Hohaia. You seemed to lose your focus on attack over the quarter of an hour. Why? Was it the pressure? It must have been hard, but all you had to do was maintain your composure. After all, you were starting to put the heat on the Titan’s during the third quarter. They were starting to wither against your onslaught, too.
But, it was not to be, as the Titan’s held on to their hopes of premiership glory in four weeks time.
Not so for you lot though. A nervous time over the coming two days awaits you as your fate is now in the hands of others as the wheel of fortune is spun.
You can only sit around hoping that it lands on the prize you now desire the most; the chance to redress tonight’s failings with a second chance somewhere, sometime in Australia next weekend.