Finally the New Zealand Warriors have set sail in their search of NRL glory today as they secured their first win of the season over Cronulla at Owen Delaney Park in Taupo. Careful they had to be as they boarded, though, as there were a plethora of menacing sharks circling as they lay in wait, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to defile any number of the Warriors playing staff.
They gave it a mighty shot too, as the Cronulla forwards, led by the irrepressible Paul Gallen, took the game to its foe. Scared of no one are Cronulla. Gone are the days of yesteryear where they were often on the receiving end of a thirty point pummelling. Nowadays, they fight every second of the way. They may not win every week, but, their opposition will know they have been in a torrid examination, each and every time.
It was a match that had a bit of everything. From a dazzling array of attacking options that were on display to the often bone-crunching defence of both sides, it was heavenly. Offloads aplenty and the occasional yet delightful chip kick, there were. Not a one from either side gave any consideration to being tackled in possession.
Much better, these hard working athletes mused, to give an entertaining spectacle of end to end football. The offloading didn’t always come off, but, hell, it sure was a sumptuous viewing experience.
Not sure that the respective coaches, Ivan Cleary and Shane Flanagan would concur, mind. Heart palpitations were more than likely the order of the day for these two.
Particularly in the case of Cleary, as he had to sit through eighty minutes of watching stand-off Feleti Mateo attempt some of the most outlandish offloads imaginable. A fiction writer with an imagination of the highest order couldn’t dream up some of the stuff that Mateo came up with. That he thought nothing of trying to offload while being hounded by three tacklers suggests a pep talk from the coach in the upcoming days about picking the appropriate time to offload, would not go amiss. As Oscar Wilde once said, "some people know the price of everything but the value of nothing". Certainly, Mateo quickly needs to acquaint himself with the value of retaining possession.
Admittedly, there were moments in time where Mateo did get the ball away to a support player. And his teammates were drawn to him like moths to a flame. Glen Fishiiahi, in particular, was being the enthusiastic support player that you would expect of a free ranging fullback as he lurked in the near vicinity waiting for any opportunity that felt the urge to approach this young superstar in the making.
If he wasn’t shadowing Mateo around the park, Fishiiahi would find other ways in which to amuse himself. Such as scoring tries. A better pastime there could not possibly be for a young player with aspirations of NRL fame and fortune.
Take long, it didn’t for Fishiiahi to find the try line. Only two minutes, in fact. After the Shark’s had lost the ball trying to offload, Warrior’s captain Simon Mannering scooped up the loose ball and sent right winger Bill Tupou stampeding his way along their right flank on a whirlwind forty metre dash before passing on the inside to Fishiiahi to finish off the movement by dotting down twenty metres wide of the right upright. With the conversion by James Maloney, the Warrior’s had an early 6-0 lead.
Cleary’s gamble of replacing some of his more experienced players such as Lance Hohaia and Brett Seymour with young blood looked like it may be a masterstroke.
But, it was only early days. As they were about to find out when in the 12th minute Cronulla’s Jeremy Smith barged over under the crossbar to level the scores at six a piece.
Cronulla, in 2011, have a big, strong, and hard as nails forward pack that isn’t afraid to bash their way up the middle of the ruck. A blunt instrument, as it were. Flash they may not be, but extremely effective they are. A team can have all the fancy back’s in the world, but, if their forwards don’t set a base initially, then those backs will be of no great effect.
And the Shark’s set about attaining that much needed platform. Despite the Warrior’s going ahead 8-6 after Gallen was penalised for taking Fishiiahi out without the ball, it was Cronulla who were getting the better of proceedings, now. The forwards were making splendid ground up the middle of the park with each sortie. And the Warrior’s, try as they might, simply could not close the Shark’s down. It got worse as Cronulla offloaded at every given opportunity.
Fullback Nathan Gardner was having a fabulous time of it. Profiting from the random nature of the game, he was taking great delight in irritating the Warrior’s defence. His runs were fiendish of nature, cruel in all their entirety as he enticed his foe to approach their nemesis in the hope of having him submit in the tackle. And just when a gaggle of Warriors players thought they had Gardner cornered, he would weave and zigzag his way to a few more metres of freedom.
Cronulla were on a roll. However, they didn’t count on the brave and courageous defence of the Warrior’s. They had no right to keep the Shark’s from scoring for a twenty minute period where they were being dominated. As per the norm, Michael Luck, was doing his utmost to impersonate a tackling machine. The untiring lock forward thinks nothing of making fifty tackles in a match. Without him, where would the Warriors be? It absolutely doesn’t bear thinking about.
Regardless of his and his mate’s best efforts to sustain their defensive over the previous twenty minutes, they just couldn’t hang on any longer. For, in the 31st minute Wade Graham crossed the chalk to give Cronulla a 12-8 lead. Which is where the score remained for another twenty minutes.
If the first half had been highly entertaining, just wait till you hear the tale of the second stanza. For, both teams revved up the intensity to near breaking levels. The hits in defence got harder, and were sustained for the majority of the half. The offloading-though you wouldn’t think it possible-became even more prevalent. What’s more, the attacking prowess, of the Warrior’s in particular, bordered on the sublime.
One criticism of the Warrior’s attack at times is that is relies heavily on a last tackle bomb for Manu Vatuvei. With “the beast” out with injury, the option of the kick seemed to have been put away for the time being.
And who needs it, anyway?
Certainly not Fishiiahi.
For, in the 51st minute he decided to show-off his attacking chops. On the menu was a left foot step to leave Broderick Wright helplessly stranded as he slashed his way through the Shark’s defence, leaving a clear run of thirty metres for “the fish” to dot down. Maloney, who ended up with a perfect kicking record for the day, converted to give his side a 14-12 lead.
Another two tries, one in the 60th minute to Maloney, the other in the 71st, to Kristin Inu and the Warriors had put the game beyond the reach of a hungry Shark’s side that has been intent on righting the wrongs of their 2010 campaign, this year.
A late converted try to Cronulla narrowed the score to 26-18 in the Warrior’s favour, but the game was gone by that stage.
The Warrior’s had put on an unsullied attacking display over the final forty minutes. Bodes well, it does, for a side that has discovered some bright young things who have the potential to turn this club into an attacking force. Fishiiahi was the star, but let us not forget the likes of Bill Tupou and Ukuma Ta’ai who more than held their own against one of the toughest, uncompromising teams going around.
And then there was Elijah Taylor, who looks to be in his element.
Inu gets better with each passing week, looking likely every time he touches the steeden.
Cleary has a job on his hands with Mateo, but if he can harness Mateo’s undoubted ability on attack, then this is a side that could become one of the more fearsome attacking propositions going around.
Yep, this is a team with a goodly amount of potential, that’s to be sure.
Down on confidence after three consecutive losses, they showed what they are capable of by beating a team that will make the top eight this year.