The New Zealand Warriors - like many before them - have proven that defence is the cornerstone of success.
Not for the first time this season, they kept their enemy scoreless over the final twenty minutes of a match. This time, though, they went one step further and did not allow their opposites to score for the entirety of the second half.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it was. It’s just that there were other aspects of their game that left a lot to be desired.
Against the Newcastle Knights, they weren’t necessarily at their best. In fact they were many moons away from anything that resembles what they are truly capable of.
It took them a good seventy minutes to cajole themselves out of a slumber that had outstayed its welcome. They turned up for a match, at a venue that is never easy, looking as though they thought arriving at the ground was the only necessity to gaining two competition points.
That they somehow managed to come away with a win while appearing to have an engine that was seriously misfiring, speaks volumes for their ability.
Perhaps, having stayed on in Australia after last weekend’s match on the Gold Coast instead of returning to Auckland as is normal, it had all been too easy in the lead-up to kick-off.
Over the opening twenty minutes their intensity was non-existent, and not of the level required. Ball was dropped that would not be expected of a professional football team. Everything seemed to be completed at half pace. James Maloney’s usually reliable kicking boot in general play had decided that today was a suitable time to take a sabbatical from good form. Time after time, his kicks would go to a Knights player on the full.
Nothing much was going their way.
But, we’ll come back to the Warriors shortly.
In the meantime, let’s give credit to Newcastle.
For, they had come to play from the opening whistle. Their forwards looked pumped and of a disposition to do some serious damage to their foe. From the opening set of six, they climbed into their work with unabated glee. A gain of one hundred metres, aided by a superb fifth tackle kick from Jarrod Mullen displayed a desire to forge ahead with the intent of cleansing the park of any unwanted parasites.
In the likes of Wes Nequama and Aqula Uate, Newcastle has some seriously potent attacking weapons out wide. Mullen didn’t hesitate to go to the fringes early, either. Regularly he would send long bullet like passes to his waiting outside backs. Right from the start, they were finding cavities in the Warriors defence. Not just on the right side, but, left, too, as breaks of forty metres seemed to be the norm.
Yet, despite these fractures of the defence occurring all too often, somehow the visitors managed to realign their defensive formations and save the day. Their ability to scramble had kept them in a game that they really didn’t deserve to be competitive in.
Only when Ben Mautalino entered the fray did the energy levels of the Warriors lift. From his first hit-up, he made an impact on the Knights defensive line, buckling it with some strong surging runs.
With all the possession that the Knights had procured for themselves, the only surprise was that they had no more than a four point lead after a quarter of the match. Twice as many sets of six than the Warriors, they had.
Having had complete domination of proceedings to this stage, mentally Newcastle had to be affected by the lack of dominance on the scoreboard. Self belief could not help but be tainted.
Ahead at the break by four, you could not help but wonder whether Newcastle had run its race.
Despite putting on a performance thus far that could at best be described as careless, the Warriors hung tough.
Winning ugly is something good teams achieve. If the Warriors were going to succeed, there seemed to be no other way. They simply weren’t in good enough form to achieve a win with a dash of élan.
For the majority of the second half, they simply carried on as before. A myriad of dropped ball and lost opportunities was the go. But, as in the first half, their defence remained solid.
Such is the way with many Warriors’ sides over the years, they can be struggling, and then suddenly a flash of attacking brilliance appears from nowhere. This particular side is no different, it seems. You can never be quite sure what they are going to bring to the table.
If Maloney’s kicking game was off for much of the encounter, there was nothing to despair about when it came to his attacking qualities. Week after week, he seems to have the innate ability to find the gap. A halfback with such ability and speed to burn is a priceless asset. He had a hand in two of the Warrior’s four tries. His 72nd minute effort that finally broke the stalemate, with a superbly timed run into a hole in the Knights defence was that of a classy attacking unit. For the Warriors to go on and prove they are the real deal in 2011, Maloney will need to continue with the line breaks. He appears to be their best at this stage.
With seven minutes to go, you couldn’t be quite sure that the Warrior’s wouldn’t resort to their bad habits of the first seventy minutes and let Newcastle launch a comeback bid. But, they held firm.
There was to be no fairytale finish for the Knights. They had given so much, but, in the end, like Godot, a last minute win did not materialise.
Newcastle gave it their all, but in the end, they didn’t quite have the talent to match their guests. To make life even harder, they were without their best player in Kurt Gidley.
And the Warriors have shown that if you get your defence in order, you can win even when other aspects of your game aren’t quite gelling.