Monday, May 30, 2011

With the NRL being at the midpoint of the season, and the New Zealand Warriors sitting in fifth place on the points table, are they now travelling with the maximum of velocity?

Well, no. However, while having not played particularly well at times, they have still ground out seven valuable wins.

They may not have been at their best, but, still, normally at this stage of the season they’re usually back somewhere around thirteenth position and forced to make a late surge into September football. By which time the tank is running on reserve and they come to a grinding halt in the first couple of weeks of the play-offs.

Not so this year, though. It’s all starting to look good for the boys from Mt Smart as the pleasant aroma of finals football looks to be mounting an effort to waft its way into this team’s near future.

Sure, it’s not all smelling of roses.

Their defence may do for them very nicely, but other aspects of their game such as the attack have stuttered along at times. Injuries have visited. Manu Vatuvei the most noticeable. The amulet that was he has been hobbling about on one leg since his return from a serious knee injury suffered in round one.

So, what could be that something or someone special that turns the Warriors into a genuine premiership force?

How about that Kevin Locke? Seems like a pretty good bet doesn’t he?

Ever since Ivan Cleary was forced to put him at fullback three weeks ago, Locke has made every post a winner. With more space and freedom at the back to weave his special brand of magic, he has been going to town on opposition defences and waltzing his way around defenders with a monotonous regularity.

It’s not like he wasn’t a decent winger. He was. Fullback, though, seems becoming of him.

What was more than a respectable talent out wide may now turn into a supernova ready to delight his legion of fans with an explosive display of counterattacking majesty from the back.

A sidestep here, a shimmy there, a sixty metre dash much to his foe’s despair...he’s got it all has Locke. Toughness personified, he is. Numerous times since his stint at fullback began he has been the recipient of some bone rattling tackles.

Do you think that would deter him? Oh no, not the young Locke, Back to his feet in no time at all, onwards and upwards for him. Packing a punch way above his weight. Reminiscent of Billy Slater, even... and he’s not too bad, is he?

Similar in build, very close in running style, reach for the stars and he could become more than just a Slater-lite.

Slater is regarded as the best fullback ever. What’s to stop Locke from going to those dizzying heights?

More than likely nothing as long as the hard work is put in.

Which seemed to go out the door in 2010 with a sluggish effort on his part after the bright lights of stardom had infiltrated his being during his debut season the year previous appeared to go to his head.

This year, he appears to have discovered the humility to allow his development to forge forwards. By all accounts it seems he has knuckled down and worked his backside off, and is now back on the straight and narrow.

Which, of course, is great for the Warriors as he could just be that x-factor needed to make their presence felt in October.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Every team has their superstars.

In the New Zealand Warriors case, think Kevin Locke, Manu Vatuvei, and even Kristian Inu(his performance last Sunday shall be conveniently forgotten). Always doing something stupendous, they are. Accolades are seldom far from their person.

What every team also needs is its share of hard grafters. You know, the head down, bum up, no nonsense types.

They will never partake in an eighty metre intercept try.

What they will do though, is quietly go about their work of making forty tackles a match, not to mention fifteen hit-ups which usually get them nothing more than a whole lot of pain.

It’s a thankless task.

The public never give them an ounce of credit for their efforts, and yet those same players keep coming back for more.

Loyal to the end, uncomplaining and hard working, they don’t get the big contracts of 300 to 500K pa that the likes of Vatuvei can demand.

Of course, the irony is that Vatuvei and co only have the chance to get up to their superstar antics with their superstar salaries because of the hard yakka put in by those grafters up front in the engine room, initially.

And yet do you hear Michael Luck whinge?

Nope, not once.

Grateful to be living his dream of playing professional Rugby League, he tirelessly goes about his work each week with the same intensity regardless of whether his team is winning or losing; making those forty (sometimes more) tackles a match.

If it were not for his covering tackle on Nathan Merritt last Sunday as Merritt was about to indulge in a fifty metre foray down field to score what would have possibly been a match defining try, the Warriors winning streak would not have been extended to five matches.

Injuries need not bother pestering Luck for a week off. No point, for they would simply end up talking to themselves, such is his level of disdain for their pleas of leniency.

Only rarely does he miss a match.

In 2010, he received a gash to his thigh so deep that anyone who had ventured Luck’s way would have had the misfortune to see down to his femur.

One of the more horrendous injuries seen in recent times most would have been on the sidelines for a couple of months.

Not Luck, though.

After missing a couple of matches, he strapped the thigh up and was back in action with no qualms about reinjuring himself.

With his defensive qualities and what is clearly a strong mental attitude, it’s no wonder that the Warriors have the fifth best defensive record in the NRL this season.

So, by all means, idolise the Vatuvei’s of this world.

But, the next time you’re at Mt Smart Stadium; don’t forget to give Luck a rapturous round of applause.

After all, he is the glue that holds this side together, and more than deserves all the acclaim he gets.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Apparently Ben Mautalino doesn’t like being a starting prop. It seems he would rather come on after twenty minutes from the interchange bench.

Heaven only knows why.

Each week he continually puts severe pressure on the backbone of the opposing team.

While he doesn’t necessarily break through and run that extra fifteen metres, it is in part due to the initial damage inflicted by him that the auxiliary units are able to break the line a little later in the peace.

There was none of this running two wide of the ruck, either. No half measures as he approached the defensive line.

It was full speed ahead and straight up the guts for him; usually with two or three defenders desperately hanging on. Yeah, it’s just what the opposition wants after having been battered and bruised by the starting props for the fearsome figure of Mautalino to come on after a quarter of the match and proceed to heap further torment on the enemy forwards.

Now, there may be some out that might point out that Mautalino only has the effect he does because the other team is starting to tire.

Well, to those that think such absurdities...a big fat raspberry too you. For, yesterday at Mt Smart Stadium, Mautalino was forced to act as one of starting props alongside Russell Packer due to the State of Origin selection of Jacob Lillyman.
And a mighty fine job of it he did too. There was no more effective player, than he. Once again, it was straight up the middle into the eye of the storm.

A good argument could be put up for him to start regularly. Against the Newcastle Knights in round ten, the Warrior’s go forward was nonexistent until Mautalino appeared after fifteen minutes. He quickly began to dent the Knights line giving his side momentum they had previously struggled to gather. It should be stated, too, that this is a common occurrence. Consistency appears to be his middle name. Week in, week out, Mautalino operates at the same high level.

The Warrior’s are likely to be without both Lillyman (origin duties) and Sam Rapira (injured) in the upcoming weeks.

So, Mautalino will more than likely be required to be in the starting side for some time now.

And hopefully he will discover just how good he can be. Which, of course, means a growth spurt of confidence.

You never know... with that added self belief, he might even find he enjoys it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Was it a resurrection or resuscitation?

Given that the good majority of us couldn’t claim to find the notion of giving seventeen sweaty rugby league players mouth to mouth exciting, let’s hope it was the former.

Hard to say for sure which of the two it was, but, whatever has transformed the Canberra Raiders from chumps to champs in the space of seven days, it must surely have been stupendous.

First, they beat Melbourne last week. Now, seven days later, they’ve gone and accounted for the Canterbury Bulldogs, winning 20-12 in Canberra tonight.

It was a mighty effort on the home side’s part. Especially given that all the stats suggested that the Bulldogs should have won comfortably, going away. By half-time the Raiders had completed some sixty more tackles than their opposition.

Not only that, but a good proportion of the fixture was being played in Canberra’s own half. This in part was from their own capacity to offer up attacking options to the Bulldogs through poor ball control. It was a cold night with heavy dew on the ground, and handling conditions were not at their optimum. All the same, if they were going to continuously hand over the pill, surely Canberra was going to suffer the consequences.

Maybe they might have if the Bulldogs had brought along any semblance of an attacking game with them. On many an occasion they attempted to make pests of themselves in Canberra’s red zone. Yet, not once in the opening quarter did they look like threatening the green machines in-goal area.

In fact, it was the Raiders, against the run of play, that opened the scoring in the 11th minute after Joe Picker chased through to secure a 5th tackle bomb put up by a mate, then not to delicately charged his way to within five metres of his foes goal line before dispatching the ball widely behind him for Josh McCrone to snap up and spread it to Canberra’s right side attack where Joel Thompson was waiting with bated breath to do his thing. Which he duly managed as he threw a dummy and darted five metres to score out wide.

Having scored first, despite losing out in the territory stakes, one might have surmised that this could have been the catalyst for the Raiders to settle down and concentrate on the basics.

You know, simple things such as holding onto the ball in the set of six immediately after a scoring play. Unfortunately for Canberra, Dane Tilse knocked on. More pressure to absorb, then.

Not content to be left out, just two minutes later, fullback, Nathan Massey, got in the act and lost possession in his own half.

So, opportunities abounded for the Bulldogs to attack. Yet, whatever they tried, they seemed to lack direction. In all likelihood, they were missing the services of State of Origin hooker, Michael Ennis.

As much as Canberra was defending stoutly, and they had displayed a tremendous kick/chase thus far, which were both admirable team qualities; there are times when individuals need to hog some of the limelight.

No, really, it’s okay, be a star. No no...don’t go with the flow, steal the show, branch out...strike a blow. Be a man... that you can, do it for yourself, do it for the fan, don’t worry about a ban. Take your cue, bid adieu, earn your due... break clear, take care, run free, lift those knees, but don’t fear for the opposition are nowhere near. It’s still okay, be that individual, run like you mean it...it’ll pay...you’ll find a way, its May, keep them at bay.

And this is exactly what Reece Robinson did in the 26th minute as he intercepted a long pass of Bulldogs skipper, Andrew Ryan, and set out on a solo run of thirty-five metres to score twenty metres wide of the left upright.

A few seconds after he touched down his teammates were there to congratulate him. Robinson had helped secure his side a 10-0(with Jarrod Croker’s conversion) advantage totally against the run of play in awkward playing conditions. They sure appreciated his efforts.

Yep, he was an integral part which helped contribute to the whole being greater than the sum of all it parts.

To this point Canberra had spent three quarters of the game in their half.

It was a tremendous effort to go into the break up by ten points.

With Matt Orford out with injury, his replacement, Joe Williams, had big boots to fill. Relish the chance, he did. Not long after half-time he sent a booming kick down field in search of a 40/20. It only missed by a fraction as Ben Barba dived frantically to keep the ball in play. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, even though he managed it, he gave possession back to the Raiders who gratefully accepted the invitation to enter the visitor’s in-goal area as Joe Picker dived over in the tackle for what would be the winning try and a 16-0 lead.

Sure, momentum did swing and the Bulldogs would come storming home over the final fifteen minutes with tries to Josh Morris and Ben Barba, closing the gap to six.
Ill discipline was to be their undoing, however. Having already conceded a two pointer in the 60th minute, a swinging arm from Ennis’ replacement, Josh Reynolds, with three minutes left on the clock, put the result beyond doubt as Croker kicked the penalty and sealed Canberra’s third win of the season.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Some have said that James Maloney is a work in progress.

They’re right, you know.

For all the great stuff he does, at times it can be equalled by the not so good.

For every dynamic line break he makes, there is often a penalty unnecessarily offered up to the opposition.

With a success rate of eighty-eight percent in the goal kicking stakes, Maloney is one of the Nrl’s top sharpshooters. While he is a guaranteed two points more often than not, on the other side of the coin, his kicking in general play can be a touch inconsistent at times.

Against Newcastle yesterday, rarely did he find the turf on his last tackle plays. Often, the back three of the Knights could gather the pill on the full and quickly gain an easy twenty metres before the Warriors kick/chase had arrived.

That said, he played a large part in the Warrior’s sealing a victory in the final ten minutes. His try was a fine example of a player running good lines in a bid to penetrate the opposition line. It’s not the first time he has done it, either. Last week against the Gold Coast he was again lethal in attack.

And while he does make errors at times, he doesn’t appear to be suffering from the dreaded second year syndrome. You know, that thing where a young player stars in his debut season and then struggles the next year.

He, at least, appears to be improving.

So, does the good outweigh the bad?

Too right it does.

Sign him up long term, now.
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 √©lan.

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.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How far have Canberra sunk this year? Well, it seems, so far down the pecking order that they have suffered the ignominy of having the NRL appoint two junior(inexperienced)referees for their match against the Storm in Melbourne, this weekend.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

After some strong preseason form, the New Zealand Warriors were expected to seriously challenge for a NRL title in 2011. Then, three straight losses to open their campaign and their form - along with their confidence - dived headlong into a quagmire of dropped ball, missed tackles and attacking ineptitude. That promise had turned to despair.

But, then, slowly but surely, they yanked themselves out of the murk that had engulfed them and, steadying the ship, prepared to make way as they set off in search of the utopia that is NRL glory. They’re not there yet, but their prospects are certainly looking up.

It was baby steps at first as they gradually got their game in order. Not a lot of attacking prowess to be found, initially. The unforced errors, though, were starting to be eliminated. Go-forward started to arrive in spades. Defence was stout. To be fair, it had been solid all along. But, attack, umm, not so great. Took a little while longer to fully click into gear. There were glimpses of what this side could achieve. But, still, there was and is room for improvement.

Even so, the Warriors had managed to win four from their last five outings. Life was looking up, despite the attack still not quite gelling.

Then...Boom, they exploded into the fully animated side that we all knew they were capable of being at Skilled Park today as they thumped the Gold Coast Titans, 34-14, in a comprehensive six tries to three win.

Here was a team that was making metres up the middle of the park with ease.

Offloading in the tackle appeared to be the flavour of the day as their legion were prepared to do the deed in all four corners.

Stuck, they did, too. Not a dropped ball amongst them.

Then there was that attack. Emanated, it did, out of their being like a hyperactive bull with pent-up frustration ready to rampage its way over any unfortunate soul mindless enough to get in its way.

Sharp, focused and a steely eyed as it set its sights on the opposition in-goal area.

It was eager, impatient even, the sun was shining and it didn’t take long to make hay either.

Ninety seconds into proceedings, with a pack minus an injured Sam Rapira and Aaron Heremia, they rumbled their way into their foe’s red zone for James Maloney to put a bomb up on the last tackle. Manu Vatuvei-back from injury-knocked the ball back for Feleti Mateo to gather and offload to Kiwi’s lock, Lewis Brown, to dive over in the tackle, ten metres wide of the left upright.

Maloney converted. It was the perfect start. 6-0 and the Warriors looked like they had come with their game faces on.

Their test players, included.

Ben Mautalino and Lance Hohaia (who was replaced at fullback by Kevin Kocke- fine game he had too) came off the bench and added plenty of spark. Then there was Brown and Captain, Simon Mannering, who both had splendid games. Looked like they hadn’t played for seven days, so sprightly were they.

While Gold Coast scored twice over the next twelve minutes with two individual tries to winger, David Mead, the Warriors always looked to have the measure of the Titans.
Defensively, the Warriors were handling most of what the home side was throwing at them with relative ease. Physically they looked the stronger. Their go forward had more impact than that of their opposites. And they didn’t make such howling errors as the likes of Titans lock, Ashley Harrison, who knocked-on from the restart in the 17th minute.

From the ensuing the scrum the Warriors spread the pill to their left side attack where there was a beast- Manu Vatuvei- waiting, keen as mustard and bright-eyed with avid anticipation of the delights of entering the try scoring fray after so long on the sidelines. That he succeeded was of no huge surprise, as the man mountain rarely fails in his quest to demoralise opposing players with his try scoring feats.
Now that they had regained the ascendency, the skies to the north were clearing as the Warriors set forth with intent on an expedition to freeze their adversary’s out of the contest.

Preston Campbell has had many great days in rugby league over a long and extensive career.

This wasn’t one of them, as the Titan’s fullback muffed a bomb that was detonated by the boot of Maloney in the 24th minute. The Warriors player of the season thus far, Kristian Inu, was on hand to gather the loose ball and offload to Mannering who scored 20 metres in from the left touchline.

With the conversion came a 16-8 lead that they would not surrender.

Another eight minutes along the wondrous adventure that is life, young second rower, Elijah Taylor, extended that lead when he scored one of the more bizarre tries that one is ever likely to view. Having run ten metres on the diagonal and appearing to be tackled initially, he rose to his feet to hear the referee saying to play on. While the Titans stood around looking bemused, thinking they had completed the tackle, Taylor strolled over for the try and a 22-8 lead after the conversion.

That’s what you call playing to the whistle.

So far the Warriors were by far the better side. From their kicking game to committing less unforced errors, they had it over the Titans.

One side was playing like they were on the way up. The other was displaying why by the end of the match it would be in 13th position on the points ladder.

That said, the Warriors spent the first ten minutes of the second stanza doing their darndest to let the Titans back into the match.

Whether it was sloppy work on their behalf bringing the ball out from their own red zone in the form of offloads only two metres from their goal line, or Maloney getting tackled on the fifth tackle when there was ample opportunity to get a metre gaining kick in, they were up for making life hard on themselves.

Eventually the added possession the Titans had gained from the visitor’s poor play told as Mead crossed for his third try of the afternoon in the 50th minute.

Having lapsed back into some of their bad habits from the first few rounds, the Warriors gathered themselves as they delved deeply into their reservoir of metal fortitude in an effort stop any rot from entering their game.

Gone were the inappropriate offloads for the time being. Here now was a conservative approach with good hard straight running up the middle of the ruck, backed up by a kicking game from Maloney and Brett Seymour that began to find space, just like it had in the first half. Top that up with a rigorously enthusiastic kick/chase and, sure enough it wasn’t long before they were back in the familiar position of dominating the state of play.

Scoring chances didn’t come their way immediately. But, now was the hour, when...Boom...they were back on attack with the utmost precision.

A short drop-out from Campbell went wrong for the Titans as Taylor got his mitts on the ball on the 20m line, stepped off his left foot and scurried his way towards the posts on a forty-five degree angle to meet up with a straight running Maloney who took a neat little pass from his mate and dived over under the crossbar to put his team out to a fourteen point margin.

Only four minutes later, Maloney was back in the thick of it, as...Boom...from a quick restart, Kevin Locke makes five metres before putting Maloney into a gap, who, while displaying speed that may have surprised more than a few, discovered that the enemy territory was barren, allowing him to enjoy his journey to the goal line free from unwanted defensive wannabees as he scored his second try for a personal haul of eighteen points.

Sixty-four minutes, a twenty point margin and the guests may have put an end to the Titans top eight hopes for this season.

Their own hopes and aspirations, though, are well and truly alive. Improve each week they continue to do. And the need for that can’t be underestimated. Momentum is crucial. Get on a roll and self belief soars. Just try stopping a team that is playing well and genuinely believes in themselves. Luck, amazingly, suddenly starts to go their way. The Warriors have now won five of their last six matches. A team that wins two, and then loses two, can never hope to build the necessary confidence to get on a roll that is required to win a premiership.

And the New Zealand Warriors are one of only four or five sides winning regularly.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

So, the Kiwi’s only had four days to prepare for the Anzac day test that isn’t played on Anzac day.

Disadvantaged they were to such an inordinately large extent, that, clearly, they would have decimated the Kangaroo outfit if they were given the opportunity to have a more professional ten day preparation.

Of course, some would claim that.

If only the Kiwi’s could have time to prepare like State of Origin teams , the pesky but ultimately talent free zone that is the Australian rugby league team would be shaking in their boots.

You see, Australia have a backline consisting of six Queenslanders. Combinations already there, so they are much better off than their counterparts apparently.

And it’s not like the Kiwi’s play together three times per year either, is it. No one would have witnessed them competing in five test matches in 2010. Those of you that perceive that you did must surely be letting your imaginations run wild. And it would be bordering on the bizarre that you could possibly suggest that last night’s team was wholly different to that of last year.

The Kiwi’s, unlike their foe, wouldn’t be affected by the twelve man interchange bench under the rules that the international game is played. Nothing could be surer than an extra two interchanges suiting their cause, as it is them- not the Australians- that possess the personnel to perform an up-tempo game plan.

Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges and their cohorts certainly wouldn’t have the ability of the Kiwi’s to take advantage of the gaps in the defensive line that appear due to the superior speed of play that the New Zealander’s are able to engage in.

Across the board, a team of superstars, the Kiwi’s are. This is most different from the Kangaroos who only have a couple of leading lights in their stable, but are ably backed up by those wholehearted workmanlike types.

That there could be anyone out there that thinks those solid, if unspectacular, players would benefit from another week together pre-match to get to the stage where they could operate on the same level as the star-studded New Zealander’s, defies belief.

I mean, it’s not like a longer preparation would help a team of Australians that haven’t played together for ten months, too.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

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.