Like met like today at Mt Smart Stadium as two teams battled themselves as much as they did each other.
There was the New Zealand Warriors who, despite winning 26-18, were off their game. Then there was the Penrith Panthers, who were off their game. Add to this the weather, which was also off its game as it sent in a cold gale force wind to further unsettle the timbers of the two combatants.
The Warriors appeared flat after their short turnaround from a rare Monday night game earlier this week. But let’s not forget Penrith. Not to be outdone in the race to see who could commit the most unforced errors, they couldn’t recover from the news that their coach Matthew Elliot was to lose his job at the end of the season.
As for the continuous stream of mistakes from both sides, the best that can be said was that at least they were consistent. Such was the dire lack of ball handling skills on display that it resembled an eighty minute assembly line of error infested amateurism. Yes, conditions were far from the ideal. That being said, these are highly paid talented professionals who should be well able to deal with adverse conditions.
Not that the day was totally without hope. There was a mighty forward battle being played out. Up the middle of the park it was a rugged affair. No quarter was given, none was asked for. Regularly, the ball carrier could be seen to be on the receiving end of some bone rattling tackles.
This didn’t deter the likes of Sam Rapira, though, who could often be seen spearheading the charge as he made his way forward on nine runs that conjured up a useful 88 metres of welcome go forward. Not content to leave his participation at that, he threw his body into twenty-three tackles. A fine effort it was. Surely welcomed by his teammates, it contributed keenly to keep his side in the match in the opening half as they not only battled Penrith, but also a strong head wind.
And ably backed up he was by Feleti Mateo who just keeps getting better with each passing week. 144 metres of penetrating mayhem the Warriors got out of him. For much of the opening eight rounds, oppositions have struggled to contain Mateo. Penrith were no exception to the rule as he constantly threatened to bust their defensive line open. On top of this, he was again at his offloading best with five. And there was only the one error from him as he continues to curb his ambitions to offload at the most inappropriate times.
So there was some good in their four tries to three win.
Unfortunately there was plenty of the bad, too.
Particularly in the first half as neither side could gain the upper hand. One try a piece to Kevin Locke and Tim Grant was all that either side could manage. With the score parked at six-all at the break, it had been a half of lost opportunities.
Penrith, like most other opponents of the Warriors this season, attacked down their left side. Weaknesses abound on the right side defence for the Warriors as their foes each weak attempt to tear their defence asunder. A miracle, it was, that the visitors came away empty handed whenever they did venture to that side.
On at least one occasion a try went begging as the final pass went flying over the touchline.
It simply was not going to be Penrith’s day.
While the match had not scaled any great heights over the opening stanza, the Warriors set about securing their fourth win in five matches early in the second half.
Manu Vatuvei is still a couple of weeks away from a return from injury. No “beast”, then. But who needs him? Not Kevin Locke as he took the time to feast on a wayward pass by Penrith and not least propel himself 75m along the eastern wing for a touchdown that was against the run of play.
With another two tries- one to Kristian Inu and the other to Lance Hohaia- the match was out Penrith’s reach. They may have scored two late tries, but, by then, the match had well and truly slipped from their grasp.
Disappointing, though, for the Warriors who had enjoyed a 26-6 lead and a chance to significantly improve their point’s differential. That will have to wait until another day, though.
What should be occupying their minds is a need to quickly find a solution to their lack of intensity as next week’s opponent in the form of the Gold Coast will not allow the Warriors the luxury of getting such a lead playing football of a dubious quality as this.