Wild unpredictability is the New Zealand Warriors master and commander.
Last week they met their master. This week, it was their commander that appeared, to front them, in the form of the West Tigers, handing them a 20-12 defeat at Leichthart Oval last night.
Not just week to week are the Warriors hard to fathom, but, within the space of eighty minutes one never can be too sure what they may bring to the table.
For, no sooner had they forced the Tigers into an error within the home sides own twenty, than they became a hive of disdain for the valuable commodity of ball security by dropping ball or forcing unnecessary passes on the first tackle.
Many was the time that hard working forwards carved good metres up the middle of the ruck only for all the good work to be undone by an impetuous offload by one of their number.
And yet, in between times, there was some admirable work achieved. Particularly after the twenty minute mark when the Warriors forwards began to forge their way up the middle of the ruck, instead of carting the ball up two wide of the ruck as they did for much of the opening quarter, they were able to dominate.
This in turn allowed halves Brett Seymour and Isaac John to put some deft chip kicks into the Tigers red zone, thus trapping the Tigers in their in-goal area and gaining possession from the restart.
Despite the Warriors controlling matters between the 20th and 30th minutes, it was the home side that opened the scoring in the 33rd minute after centre Chris Lawrence ran on to a sweetly timed short pass from Benji Marshall. All that was left for Lawrence to do was to scythe his way through the brittle defence of Jerome Ropati and Kevin Locke to score in the left corner.
Which, he duly did.
A 6-0 lead to the Tigers did not last long as Warriors Captain, Simon Mannering, barged his way over to dot down in the 37th minute. Seymour converted to bring the score level at 6 a piece going into half-time.
Which was a fair indication of proceedings thus far. Both sides had had their moments, but neither could break the shackles and roam free of the other as each searched for their opening win of the season.
If the encounter hadn’t scaled any great heights to this point, a figure new to Warriors colours this year was about to provide the keen observer with something to remember.
Some people never want to grow up. Peter Pan like, they much prefer the fun stuff in life. A flick pass, a banana kick, maybe a seventy metre intercept try allowing them to thunder their way along the green expanses in search of that horizon more commonly known as the opposition’s in-goal area. Much better than all that conservative boring stuff like tackling, helping your forwards out by carting the ball out of your own half, you know.
Take Kristian Inu, for example. It’s not that he shirks the core values of the conservative side of the game. On the contrary, he does his share willingly.
And does it well, too.
It’s just that it is way more fun to put in a clever grubber kick only inches from the touchline, run around his opposite to regather the ball and pass it back in field, as he is falling over the touchline, for a teammate to continue on towards the try line. When said teammate is tackled two metres short of goal line, Inu, sensing a chance to shine, scampers into dummy half, gathers ball, throws a dummy to his right, then runs to the left two metres to dive over in the left corner for a try that one would never think he could land.
All this he did in the 49th minute. Made it all look so simple, too.
With Seymour’s conversion, the Warriors had jumped to a 12-6 lead and had taken a partisan crowd that was packed to the rafters out of the equation.
The visitors were on top, now. Which made a 56th minute drop goal attempt by Seymour seem all the more strange. Sure, it had been a close game up until this point, but, in the end, all it served to do was inform the Tigers that his outfit didn’t rate themselves to go on with the job of securing a victory through scoring tries.
And so it proved, as the Tigers grew an arm and a leg, as they powered their way to a decisive come from behind victory.
Benji Marshal and Robert Lui are like two peas in a pod. Always darting, weaving, looking for appropriate times to mesmerise their opposition with clever footwork. They both delight in throwing the deftest of short passes, too.
First, it was Lui, in the 62nd minute, who put Blake Ayshford into a gap, with a blinder of a short pass, to go over twenty metres wide of the right upright. Somehow Marshall managed to miss the conversion. He may be fleet of foot when it comes to running through opposition defences, but, his goal kicking is not his strong point.
Not long after, it was Marshall who took it upon himself to instigate havoc in the Warriors right side defence as he put Simon Dwyer into a hole with a well timed pass that sent the centre crusading down the left side attack of the Tigers in search of the winning try.
It was not to be, for him, though. Even so, the Warriors defence was shot to pieces. Seeing this, Marshall, from the ensuing play, soon spread the steeden across field into the waiting arms of Robbie farrah who stepped off his right foot, beguiling numerous defenders, and darted ten metres to hoist his side to a 16-12 lead.
The Warriors were still in with a chance with twelve minutes to go, but, the tide of possession had turned against them in the final quarter. When they did get an opportunity, errors crept back into their game. Their best football was behind them for this day. Try as they might to retain the pill, they almost compulsively handed possession back to the Tigers at every available moment.
And in the 74th minute, a knock-on from the Warriors in their red zone gave Marshall a chance to orchestrate the winning of the match. Which he gleefully took as he had Lawrence run onto a short pass out wide on their left side attack to go over for his second try of the night in the left corner and seal the win.
They had left it late, but in the end, they came home the stronger despite having suffered from a shortage of possession for the middle forty minutes of the game.
For the Warriors, it was the one that got away. They should have won, could have won, but due to a litany of unforced errors, never won.
Oh how their coaching staff would dearly love to discover the formula to consistency for a team with undoubted talent at their beck and call.
Doubtless, a puzzle within a puzzle within a puzzle, they are. No one has quite managed to solve the enigma that is the New Zealand Warriors. If only someone could master this puzzle. A sleeping giant awaits a pending engagement with greatness. Surely a gentle prod would provoke a reaction. It’s not like they’re in a deep coma.