Sunday, April 17, 2011

Okay, that left a lot to be desired.

In fact it was a dismal display on the part of the New Zealand Warriors as they went down 20-10 to Manly at Brookvale Oval tonight.

Gone was the team of the previous two weeks that had stepped up to the mark in the forward contests. Instead, it was more reminiscent of the rabble that turned up for the opening three rounds. They had a couple of weeks off as good form introduced itself to the Warriors against the Sharks and Roosters.

Tonight, though, an error ridden performance snuck back into the Warriors game with a vengeance. After a tremendous opening set of six, it was all downhill from there on in. As much as they tried to take Manly on up the middle, they simply were outmuscled by a superior unit that had no trouble stopping the Warrior’s forwards from heading northwards.

On the flipside, Manly forwards-in particular Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart and George Rose- found metres easy to come by up the middle of the ruck.

Once they had achieved their mission to decimate the Warriors pack, east they would go at times, west at others. Whichever way it was though, the Warriors defence out wide was been exposed with monotonous regularity. They simply could not contain their opposites.

The only real surprise was that the Warriors managed to hold Manly out for the opening quarter of the encounter. What was even more surprising was that they were the first to score.

For in the 22nd minute, after a 5th tackle handover by Manly due to a rare error on their part, centre Shaun Berrigan-who was to break his left hand in the second half- made a twenty metre surge into enemy territory only to be brought down two metres from the Manly goal line. From the resulting play the ball, Lewis Brown, barged over from dummy half to give the Warriors a 4-0 lead against the run of play.

With a strong wind behind them in the first half, the visitors would need to extend their lead significantly. Alas, it was not to be as transmission returned to normal programming with Manly putting the Warriors under increasing amounts of pressure. The lead was to be of an ephemeral nature.

Five minutes of sustained pressure and finally the Warriors defence could take no more. After forcing a goal line drop-out on their foe, Daly Cherry-Evans put a grubber kick on the next set of six into the Warriors in-goal for Brett Stewart’s replacement, Michael Oldfield, to gather and dot down out wide. Cherry-Evans converted to give his side a 6-4 lead. It was an advantage that they were never to relinquish again.

Momentum was now well and truly on the side of the locals. Helped along, it must be said, by Kristian Inu kicking out on the full from the restart. A schoolboy mistake from a professional footballer of Inu’s undoubted pedigree you would not expect.

With momentum came soaring confidence levels on Manly’s part. Self belief ran riot, chests heaved their way towards expansion, and young men of limited experience such as Kieran Foran played like seasoned veterans. Others of more senior years took on the appearance of their more junior team mates. Bustling, bristling, feeling as sprightly as could be, there was nothing they couldn’t do. Steve Matai could be relied on to pop up at a moment’s notice to bust the Warriors defensive line. Watmough was at risk of impersonating a runaway train. Stewart delighted in drawing defenders in on the fringes, then putting one of those Fancy Dan’s from the backline into space. Yep, young and old alike they were at one with each other.

That bond only got stronger in the 30th minute when winger Michael Robertson went over in the left corner to increase the lead to 10-4.

The Warriors could not get a look in. With their defensive work load skyrocketing, on the rare occasions that they procured themselves a few scraps of possession, they were too tired to do anything meaningful with it.

Outside of giving away penalties, that is.

One such moment was in the 35th minute where a penalty allowed Foran and Jamie Buhrer to strike up an accord. Sinister in nature, guilty both of passing themselves off as high class talent, the magnitude of their actions could not be underestimated as Foran went to the line and delved deep into his seemingly endless bag of tricks to put Buhrer through a gap with a superbly timed pass. All that was left to do was for Buhrer to race fifteen metres to score dive over in the left corner. This he did with ease.

14-4 down at half-time for the Warriors and in reality there was no way back for them. Having played with the wind in the opening forty minutes, it was their chance to put some distance between them and Manly. Well, they sure managed that. It’s just that they got it the wrong way around.

If they couldn’t stay on par with the wind behind them, how were they going to match what was clearly a better outfit into the wind? The answer, of course, was that they couldn’t.

Particularly when the likes of Feleti Mateo were busy giving up mindless penalties for throwing the ball away. All he achieved was to invite Manly to extend what had already been a dominant performance.

They didn’t need a second invitation either, as they pushed on in their unending pursuit of excellence. Much like the first half, Manly were still finding space on the edges of the Warriors crumbling city. Gaining more territory with every passing minute, their sets of six more often than not were now starting thirty-five metres out from their own line instead of in their own twenty.

They had won the smaller battles. Now it was time to win the war and declare victory.
Which they effectively did in the 54th minute as Joe Galuvao dived over ten metres wide of the right upright. Cherry-Evans converted and Manly have secured themselves an unassailable lead.

Not even a late try to Elijah Taylor could give the Warriors any hope of a late comeback. It was to be nothing more than a consolation try.

The Warriors simply could not compete with the locals, who were in a different league. It’s not that the visitors didn’t give it their all. They did. For eighty minutes they stuck at their task, but were outplayed by an opposition playing on a totally different level.

An opposition that are increasingly looking a likely top four proposition as opposed to a team at risk of missing the top eight in 2011.

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