Monday, October 3, 2011

What about the Warriors of 2011 eh? Nine years after hitting the big cahuna of Rugby League occasions for the first time, they finally arrived at the Promised Land again. It has been a long wait between drinks, but all that blood, sweat and tears, and here they were in a grand final.

Not that one would have thought it possible back in 2006. What with a rookie coach in Ivan Cleary, and a serious breach of the salary cap by the then management of the club, the Warriors were on their knees and doing a splendid impersonation of a basket case.

Slowly but surely, though, Cleary and his hard working band of helpers turned a dire situation around. For sure, it took a while. There were hiccups along the way. The entire 2009 season would be a fine example of how not to do things. But persevere, they did. Until finally, last Saturday evening, the mighty Warriors booked their entrance into the Grand final with a patient and calculating win over Melbourne. They turned up with their game faces on, and did a Melbourne on Melbourne.

And not only did the first grade side deliver the goods, but the club’s Toyota Cup side(under20’s) reached Grand Final day for the second year running with a savage beating of the Bulldogs. But wait, there’s more. If that wasn’t enough, just to add the Coup de Grace, the Warriors feeder side, the Auckland Vulcans, qualified for the final of the New South Wales Cup. That’s three finals today and the Auckland club represented in each and every one of them. It is a truly magnificent effort on their part.

This just goes to show what can be achieved with good management and some top class coaching. And, by all accounts, it has been done with the club operating well within the salary cap limits, too.

In the end the Auckland Club only won one of the three finals.

It’s onwards and upwards for this lot. Though apparently you have to lose one to win one. That’s what they reckon, you know.

The Warriors will desperately be hoping so, that is for sure.

They couldn’t snare the big one this time. For it was a mountain too high for them.

Up against a class outfit in Manly, who had grand final’s experience galore within their side, the Aucklander’s never looked likely for much of the encounter.

They are a young side though, patience is a virtue, and their time will no doubt come sooner rather than later. This is the team of future. The stratosphere eagerly awaits them.

One could have been forgiven for thinking they had played their Grand Final a week earlier in their terrific win over Melbourne. It looked it for the first sixty-five minutes. ANZ Stadium was looking suspiciously like becoming the Warriors one over easy paddock of discontent.

They had tried to take on Manly up the middle of the ruck during the opening hostilities. To a certain extent they succeeded. Defence was of a brutal nature from both sides. No quarter was given, no quarter was asked for. The Warriors players in particular, were regularly seen to have three men in the tackle, and forcing the ball carrier back several metres.

Torrid could best describe proceedings. Any form of fancy attacking fare was put on the backburner as it was becoming all to obvious that notions of any offensive fortitude, for the time being, had nowhere to go while both sides battled not only each other for any small territorial advantage they could gain, but also their own nerves.

Despite the occasional error being committed as that nervousness was allowed to craftily creep into the players lives, the standard of football on display was of the highest order. Though, who could blame them if it had not been? After all, this was the biggest stage of all.

Both teams were sticking to the basics. Second thoughts were not given to the health of the ball carrier.

It was all about defence. The Warriors outside backs were coming in from their wings to close down any potential attacking raid on Manly’s part.

Manly were alert to this. They could be seen many a time attempting to navigate their way around the edges of the Warriors defence. It was a risky ploy on the Warriors part, but in the main it worked for them as their defensive line held firm.

Even though the Warriors were the first to score with a penalty goal, it was Manly who eventually got on top. From the twenty-five minute mark onwards, there were little signs that they were slowly but surely heading to the north of ascendancy.

Their go forward was increasingly bending the spine of the Warriors defensive line.
More often than not Manly would start their sets of six on their own forty metre line, not deep inside their red zone as the Warriors would have wished. And tellingly, their foe was starting to miss tackles at an alarming rate. Perhaps all the effort required to stay with Manly in the opening quarter was starting to show in the New Zealanders performance.

And it was in that last ten minutes of the first half that the match slipped from the grasp of the Warriors. It was here that they conceded two tries, one right on the stroke of half-time to Daly Cherry-Evans. If the initial try to Brett Stewart had set the men in white back, this miracle length of the field effort put a dagger into the hearts of the Warriors players.

6-2 down at the break would not have been an insurmountable problem. 12-2, though, and that mountain has just had a unhelpful dollop of snow masquerading as ever increasing amounts of mental pressure to slow down the chances of a comeback. That revival seemingly immersed itself in a gloomy retreat into oblivion. Especially after another converted try to the Sea Eagles.

Or so it looked.

For just when one thought it safe to predict a result, the Warriors found another gear. All of a sudden they were soaring high as the home straight appeared. A try to Manu Vatuvei, then another to Elijah Taylor and it was game on again. Manly could barely hold on. The fulltime whistle could not come soon enough for them. Warrior forwards were steamrolling their way over the top of the once invincible Manly side. Then the offloads started to occur. Shaun Johnson and his remarkable footwork started to come into its own.

The dream was awakening. Could they do it? Could they, for the third week in a row, do what no one had given them a hope of achieving?

Alas, it was not to be.

It was to be one hurdle to many. But there is a feeling that the Rugby League Community is going to be hearing a lot more of this bunch as they challenge the upper echolons of footballing excellence.

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