The sun was out, the Royal New Zealand Navy Band were playing and Our Rightful Home was abuzz with a sense of excitement and occasion. The Holden and NSW cup sides had played their part, romping to easy victories, and there was a general feeling around the ground that, of all days, this was to be a day to enjoy. When the Titans hung off David Fusitu’a after just two minutes, it was all going as scripted.
The men from Mt Smart looked sharp on attack and, even though at times they couldn’t quite land the killer blow, during the first half it always felt like the Warriors were on top.
(As an aside, does anyone else think the video referees would have given this a try had it been sent upstairs as an on-field try?)
Youngster Kane Elgey was doing his best to keep the Titans in the match.
But when Nathan Friend scooted out of dummy-half and Jonathan Wright loomed up in support, the Warriors took the lead they deserved into the halftime break.
With an 18–12 advantage and the Navy Band entertaining us again, we fans sat back and looked forward to a stress-free second half.
Then, in the 45th minute, when Ryan Hoffman was unexpectedly sent to Disneyland, it all changed. The Warriors’ maiden Anzac Day screening turned from feel-good film to disaster movie in a matter of minutes.
Suddenly it was the Warriors who hung on the back foot, reacting too slowly as the Titans iceberg approached.
From there, the floodgates opened. James Roberts started to terrorise the Warriors, having his way, in particular, with Bodene Thompson. Warriors’ fans couldn’t bear to watch. Some even left the theatre.
There was tension as the film concluded — the occasion at least demanded there would be — but, as close as the Warriors came to rescuing the situation, ultimately they paid the price for 20 minutes of horror.
Do those words sound familiar?
And with the representative fixtures taking centrestage next week, the Warriors, and their fans, are left with two weeks to consider their position on the ladder and ponder what might have been.
SET OF SIX
- If anyone ever needed an illustration of what Ryan Hoffman brings to this Warriors’ side, Saturday was the perfect example. As soon as he left the field, gaps appeared in the defensive line and it seemed like there were more Titans than Warriors on the field. Even if he can’t jump, it is abundantly clear that this young Warriors side desperately needs his leadership and commitment.
- Rugby league is such a momentum game. Every decision, by both players and officials, can turn a game. At the back end of the first half, Thomas Leuluai was penalised for a strip — rightly or wrongly, I’ll let you be the judge — as the Titans coughed up possession close to their own line. From that penalty, the Titans go down the other end and score. Instead of potentially 18–6 Warriors after 30 minutes, it’s 12-all and game on.
- The Kierran Moseley try was a horrendous watch. For a dummy-half to basically walk over the line untouched from 12 metres out is criminal. I wanted to be super-critical here, but watching it closely, is it not just a case of two young players getting it horribly wrong? Sure, youth is no excuse, but David Fusitu’a, and Raymond Faitala-Mariner simply zigged when at least one of them should have zagged.
- I loved this moment. In the grand scheme of things, this play may have gone unnoticed, but when Manu made this ball his own, the Titans had just scored from a high kick and the Warriors had that deer-in-the-headlights look about them. At times like that, you need your best players to take ownership, and that’s exactly what Manu did.
And since we’ve mentioned Manu, it would be a shame not to include this, even if the Titans did score a couple of tackles later.
- The knives are out for Shaun Johnson and I’m not really sure why he’s copping so much of the blame. It’s hard to argue that he’s at his best, but is it his fault the Warriors have conceded 28 points and 32 points in their last two fixtures? Is he being held accountable simply because he won the Golden Boot award? I’d argue it is the halves’ job to manage the attacking side of the game, and with 24 and 28 points from the last two matches, it seems harsh to be too critical on that front. Calls to drop him to NSW Cup are crazy and solve absolutely none of the Warriors’ current problems.
- In saying that, perhaps the biggest criticism I’d have of Johnson is from situations like this. On this particular play, the Warriors rushed to the scrum to stop the clock, presumably so they could have one last attacking movement before the end of the first half. Why then, does there seem to be nothing organised?
The most alarming sign on a rugby league field is when the other team wants the ball more than your team. The James Roberts try is a great example. Why haven’t the Warriors tracked back here? Is it young players switching off? Are they tired? An attitude problem? Not enough desire/heart? Hard to know without being in the dressing room, but whatever it is, it needs to change — and soon — because you won’t win many NRL games conceding 30+ points or with a lack of effort on defence.