So the Warriors lost a Round 1 game. Again. Slow starters. Can’t win away from home. Same old story.
Should we be surprised? Probably not.
Should the Warriors faithful panic? Not yet.
Stats don’t always tell the tale, and at a quick glance, things were fairly even. But two categories stand out: Completion rate (Warriors 26/41, Knights 30/39) and Errors (Warriors 15, Knights 8). For me, it’s as simple as that. This was a 50/50 game, there for the winning, that’s slipped through the Warriors fingers. Coach McFadden described it best: ‘We blew it. We had a huge opportunity and we just lacked that composure’.
After a shaky start led to a Dane Gagai try, the Warriors mix of youth and experience looked to be doing the trick.
A gorgeous short ball from Suaia Matagi sent Thomas Leuluai crashing over the line and Tyrone Roberts’ knee gave the Warriors a questionable 8-point try and Leuluai a very sore face.
Albert ‘The Hungry, Hungry Hippo’ Vete was chomping up the metres, then Sam Lisone did this and, as promised, made us all smile.
Tui Lolohea was making us forget about Sam Tomkins and making the NRL Warrior look like an idiot.
And when The Hoff crashed over on the stroke of halftime to make it 14–6, it seemed like the Round 1 hoodoo might finally be over.
But everything wasn’t exactly going to plan. Both Shaun Johnson and Manu Vatuvei were especially quiet in the first half, and Konrad Hurrell was off injured. And even though Tui Lolohea was doing his best Greg Inglis impersonation, the rest of the reshuffled backline wasn’t quite clicking.
For the first 15 minutes of the second half, the men from Mt Smart had their chances to put the game almost out of reach. Newcastle were down to 12 men after David Fa’alogo was, quite rightly, sinbinned for a professional foul on the goal-line. But that’s the thing about the NRL, if you let the other team hang around and hang around, they’ll have their chance to beat you.
And that’s where the Tomkins injury came back to bite. As hard as Ben Henry works and as versatile as he is, he seems to have a real weakness defending quick centres with fancy footwork. It’s unfortunate for Henry — as the Warriors’ Mr Fix-it — that he gets placed out-of-position. It makes it harder to point the finger at him. But his slight lack of pace was exploited at the weekend. When Dane Gagai did this, it was shades of Dale Copley when Brisbane came back late in the game to beat the Warriors last year.
The errors just continued. Every time the Warriors threatened, the ball went loose. And as time ticked by, back-to-back penalties, some soft defence and before you knew it, it was 18–14.
There were chances for the Warriors to steal the points in the last 10 minutes, but ultimately they never took the right option at the right time and came away empty-handed.
Final score: Newcastle 24 Warriors 14.
On that depressing note, let’s look at the positives:
Tui Lolohea looked like the NYC star he’s been for the past two years. Apart from one shaky moment at the back, he looked assured and confident, returned every kick with interest and added spark to the Warriors attacking play. I’m happy to admit I got that wrong. I still think he’ll be wasted on the wing, but after that performance there must be a spot for Tui somewhere.
There’s a truckload of depth in that Warriors forward pack. Sam Lisone and the Hungry, Hungry Hippo played brilliantly on debut. I’ve been raving about Lisone for a while now and I’m thrilled to see him get his chance so early in the season. His combination of ball skills and nifty footwork brings an extra element to the forwards, and both him and the Hungry, Hungry Hippo brought so much enthusiasm, you couldn’t help but enjoy what they did. My favourite quote from the after-match interviews comes from the HHH ‘There was a little bit of sledging from Kade, that’s to be expected. If you get bullied around then it’s obviously not your place to be there but if you stand up to them they go away straight away.’ Love it. Never take a backward step.
Bodene Thompson followed Shaun Johnson everywhere. It didn’t serve him very well in this game — he got more hospital passes than quality passes, but once the two of them get on the same wavelength, I’m really excited about what this combination might do.
Ryan Hoffman is a smart footballer. I will remind you all of this as often as I can. Mr One-percenter.
We may have already witnessed Shaun Johnson and Konrad Hurrell’s worst games of the season. Two of the Warriors main game-breakers looked really off-the-boil at the weekend. Hurrell had a few excuses with his injury problems and the fact he’s only had one preseason match, but I’m not sure what was up with Shaun. It sounds like he’s set himself some lofty goals for the year ahead, so he’ll want to silence the critics fairly quickly.
Onwards and upwards Warrior fans. Canberra next week — Keep the faith!