There it was for all to see; in the sixtieth minute a member of the crowd holding up a sign with the words “no baloney with Maloney”.
In the ultimate irony it was in fact an act of absolute baloney on the part of James Maloney that turned the match in favour of the West Tigers.
As we shall see shortly.
Having dominated the majority of the contest for the first sixty-one minutes, the New Zealand Warriors saw a 22-4 lead frittered away.
Oh the shame of it all...this Warriors crop could be one fabulous side.
They had played a great game thus far. Defence, as it generally is with this outfit, was miserly. Even when the Tigers did manage to bust their line, they scrambled superbly.
Patience, they found, was a virtue, as early in the match they bided their time while the Tigers had a brief period of superiority over the opening ten minutes, scoring the game’s initial try.
Panic, the home side didn’t. Slowly but surely, they worked their way into proceedings, going on to run riot over the ensuing fifty minutes with an attacking frenzy that Mt Smart has not seen the likes of too often over the last few years.
To those of you not used to seeing such intricate series of passing manoeuvres from a Warriors side along with superb support play, don’t worry, your eyes were not deceiving you. It really did occur. And often, too.
Leading the charge was in-form fullback, Kevin Locke. Small in stature he may be, a big heart for he is most certainly the key. Sheltering to the lee of his bigger team mates is not where he is content to earn his fee. Deceptively strong, busting the tackle, his back was there all too often for the Tigers to see.
A Touchdown for a try of his own, run thirty metres on two other occasions to ably support mates in their preparations for scoring opportunities, not to mention a couple of try saving tackles, and the Tigers just could not break free.
Quite amazing, isn’t it, what competition can do for ones motivation.
With Glen Fishiahi chomping at the bit to regain the position that Locke garnered through the “Fish’s” injury forced exile, Locke has the pressure of knowing that someone else is breathing down his neck, eagerly anticipating a recall at the incumbent’s expense.
Yet, Locke appears to be thriving on the competition, going from strength to strength.
The rest of the side, it seemed, were growing in confidence as well. Ahead 8-4 at the break, the passes were sticking and the gaps in the Tigers defence were coming thick and fast. Opportunities abounded, and back’s Manu Vatuvei and Shaun Johnson lined up with the unabated glee of a couple of sharks in a bloodbath at the prospect of a trifecta of tries between them. This they achieved, two of which went to Vatuvei.
And then it happened. That one moment in time that changed the course of match for ever. Maloney, having tackled one of the Tigers forwards, retaliated after the tackled one pushed him. It was harmless, Maloney need not have responded. The penalty led to a try to West Tigers captain, Benji Marshall, on the next set of six.
One innocuous little incident and momentum had swung. Soon the Tigers were the ones throwing the ball around, making breaks at will. Four tries in ten minutes, with the winning play coming in the 75th minute as Beau Ryan scored in the right corner to put the match beyond repair for his foe.
Twenty unanswered points and the Tigers had been gifted a 26-22 victory.
It should never have occurred. Yes, the Warriors lost Michael Luck mid way through the first half to a season ending ACL medial ligament tear to his knee. Yes, there was Maloney’s rare moment of brain fade.
But it wasn’t just Maloney. Sure, he may have started the cascading effect of a fall into the Tiger’s lair, but the rest of the side, in the end, were as much to blame for this result.
22-4 up and one suspects they subconsciously clocked off early, thinking they had the game won.
They hadn’t. There’s a very good reason coaches urge their charges to maintain their intensity for eighty minutes.
And that reason was there for all to see today at Mt Smart.