Monday, August 8, 2011

Sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair that one team has to lose. Its life, of course, and it inevitably happens to everyone at some stage. But, fair, not really.

One such team is the New Zealand Warriors. Their performance last night against the Brisbane Broncos was exemplary. That they lost should not be held against them. For, they gave their all. Not only that, but they executed their work with a quality of precision that has not always been notable this season. Yes, they have had their moments in 2011, but here they turned on a display that they have every right to be proud of.

It may not have been a match for the ages, but both sides contributed mightily to a sparkling contest between two heavyweight contenders. It will still be remembered for some time to come. That the Warriors lost by a solitary point speaks volumes for the reverence that the Brisbane side hold Captain Darren Lockyer in. With Lockyer equaling the all time record for NRL appearances, Brisbane were always going to lift. And yet they could only win 21-20.

On occasions, there are teams that more than deserve their fate.

Maybe they didn’t truly put in. Perhaps their defence wasn’t up to scratch. Or it could be that they couldn’t convert their opportunities when they came knocking.
The Warriors displayed none of these rather disappointing traits.

Everything they had, they gave. If there was an ounce of effort left to be squeezed from within, they more than succeeded in ridding their minds of any trespassers.

Their defence was fortified, their attack electrified, a steely resolve emanated from their pores that solidified.

That resolve was there for all to see over the opening five minutes. One four pointer was conceded, but with all the possession hanging on like a parasite to the home side, it could be best described as miraculous that the Warriors did not concede any further points.

Brisbane’s domination carried on for another few minutes. But this was a match where momentum shifts were going to seize the moment with a vengeance. Just when one side thought that they were on the way to a comfortable night at the office, a tidal wave of dominance drove its way over the former, drowning out all their good work.

It would be nothing if not sudden and swift, as Shaun Johnson showed everyone. A solo sixty metre effort that took in the bright lights of the Warriors left side attack. This was the stuff of a superstar. Johnson showed off speed that glistened, agility that superseded the opposition’s best efforts in defence and a foresight that defies his six game career.

Surely the doubters have now been silenced somewhat. Admittedly Johnson is still a novice in the embryonic stages of a burgeoning career, but in that short time he has missed all of two tackles. And that was the major argument against his inclusion in the side; he couldn’t tackle. Consider that put to bed.

Then there was his ability, or thereof lack of it, to direct a football unit around the park. While he has a long way to go on this front, he certainly has not been a failure. And let’s remember that James Maloney, being the senior halves partner, is more than capable of steering the team in this capacity.

Tries that others could not contemplate succeeding with, he scores. His kicking game has been top rate.

He has made the number seven jersey his own. As has Kevin Locke with the fullback position. How he was not there twelve months earlier is hard to fathom. But it’s certainly better late than never. He continues to astound. He adds another dimension to the attacking game of the Warriors with his speed from the back and ability to back-up. Particularly dangerous he is when he follows the likes of Feleti Mateo up the middle of the ruck.

This time, though, he was on hand to latch onto a pass from Maloney and make a thirty metre arcing run to dot down in the left corner. A 12-4 lead and Lockyer’s party was being gate crashed. There didn’t appear much he could do about it either. The Warriors were in total control, and they were making ground at their foe’s expense with ease. The only surprise was that they were not ahead by considerably more.

As with most things in life though, it is not always possible to get your own way all the time. The Warriors soon discovered this as Brisbane powered their way back into the encounter. First Gerard Beale was put into space down the Broncos left wing, racing thirty-five metres to score.

Then seven minutes into the second-half, Jack Reed didn’t so much hit the road as he did soar high into another sphere of life, out leaping the Warriors defenders to snatch a try and retake the lead. Another four-pointer to Matt Gillette in the 56th minute and the Broncos looked headed for victory.

There had been so many swings and turnabouts thus far that one more wasn’t going to do any harm. That’s what makes Rugby League great; the ability of a team to sustain long term pressure that at times appears to be unsustainable, only for that side to somehow search within to find the internal fortitude to fight their way back into a contest.

And that’s exactly what the Warriors did. Fight their way back. Show that they do want to be championship contenders. A converted try and a penalty later and they had achieved parity on the scoreboard.

All that was left now was for the two combatants to step back ten paces and indulge in a drop-goal shootout. That Brisbane came out on top will more than likely be of no consolation to the Warriors.

Quite right of them, too. After all, no one likes losing. Nevertheless, they have shown they can match it with the best sides.

And what both sides have displayed is that, even if they do not make the grand final this year, they are two teams for the future that could dominate in the years to come.

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