Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?
It took until Round 15, but the men from Mt Smart finally produced an 80-minute performance. Yes, it feels as strange for me to write that as I’m sure it does for you to read it, but, remarkably, it actually happened.
The Warriors were patient, earned repeat set after repeat set, and then ran riot once the Titans ran out of gas. It was as if someone came up with a real plan and all 17 Warriors were listening. Amazing.
That’s not to say everything was perfect. There were still a few hands-over-eyes moments — new spikes, Konrad? — and sweaty palms at halftime but, then Shaun Johnson hot-stepped his way through the Titans’ defence.
And, for the first time this season, #WarriorNation could sit back, relax and watch on with a satisfied smile.
It was one of those games you wished would never end, because the longer it went, the better the Warriors played. When the final whistle blew, it seemed like a perfect result, but it wasn’t until I watched it a second time that I realised quite how perfect the game actually was.
The loss to the Titans at Our Rightful Home was painful. That’s been discussed in great detail elsewhere. Revenge wasn’t just important for the competition points, it was necessary to bury some demons — and it didn’t start well.
At 10–0 down, the Warriors attack looked toothless and their defence soft. James Roberts was causing havoc, strong words were directed at the TV and the Gold Coast must have been feeling pretty good about life. Watching the game live, I was nervous — but little did I know the men from Mt Smart had the Titans exactly where they wanted them.
It’s much more cruel to let someone think they’ve got a chance before you break their spirit. It’s much more satisfying to wipe the smile from an enemy’s face than it is to kick them while they’re down. And as I watched again, every repeat set started to feel like the Warriors were a mean, little boy plucking the legs from a Titan beetle they held in their hand. With each tackle the Titans made, they seemed to get a little weaker, a little more tired, until eventually they were immobile and simply waiting to be crushed. Sweet revenge, indeed.
SET OF SIX
1) Is there a better sight in rugby league than Shaun Johnson hitting the accelerator? He’s crucified when he doesn’t play well, and heaped with praise when he succeeds, so you don’t need any more of that from me. But it’s hard to deny just how exciting it is when he shoots past a defender and into open space.
Luckily Konrad is around to keep him grounded.
2) Is anyone else still baffled that the James Roberts try was allowed? I appreciate that the rules might state defenders can get back onside by retreating more than 10 metres, but surely you have to make some effort to get back to your defensive line before you get involved in the play. The most confusing thing was the fact the referee sent it up as no try — what if a Titans player had been tackled before the line, would it then have been a penalty to the Warriors? I’m sure by the letter of the law, the try was legal, but when everyone on the field thinks something’s a little fishy, maybe it’s best to use some common sense.
3) Poor Charlie Gubb. There’s no bigger trier in this Warriors outfit than Charlie Gubb, and on two occasions on Saturday night he must have thought he was finally about to be rewarded for all that hard work. Alas, it wasn’t to be and Charlie was left rueing the fact his arms aren’t 2 millimetres longer. Instead, he’ll be hoping he’s done enough to get another chance to avoid the nudey run on Mad Monday.
4) Nathan Friend has really stepped up since he’s become the number 1 dummy half. He was super against the Roosters, and must have been close to best on ground on Saturday night (special mentions to Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman and Simon Mannering, too). Friend is running the ball more, engaging the markers, and, in doing so, has become a genuine attacking threat. The Warriors scored all their points while Friend was on the field, and only conceded that bizarre try to James Roberts. 09Friendy is off contract at the end of this season, and with Issac Luke coming to Penrose next year, I can’t see how the Warriors can justify keeping him at Mt Smart. But, if he can maintain this form, it’s going to be a much tougher decision than the Warriors expected, and 09Friendy will have no trouble picking up another contract if he wants to soldier on.
5) The Warriors really condensed their attacking play. For the first 17 minutes of the match, even with all the possession in the opposition 20-metre zone (including three consecutive sets of six), Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend were the only backs to touch the ball on attack (not including carrying the ball out of their own end). The widest the ball ever got was the second rowers. Once they fell 10–0 down, they brought Hurrell into the game, and, as the match wore on, they began looking for gaps on the edges. But even still, they really targeted the middle of the park — it’s hard to remember Maumalo or Vatuvei touching the ball on their wing — a game plan that must have been by design and was an obvious success.
6) The Warriors wall is catching on. There was outrage when it happened, but it seems the Cowboys were watching. It wasn’t much help in the crazy finish between North Queensland and the Green Machine, but eventually JT and his men made it a remarkable 11 in a row.
THE GOLDEN POINT
Was that the blueprint for the rest of the year? Can we expect a patient, calm Warriors side to show up, control the middle of the park and grind the opposition into the dirt? That might be pushing it, but at worst, surely that performance gives the men from Mt Smart confidence that if they can do all the little things right, they’ve got the attacking threats to ice the game in the final 20 minutes. They’ve been putting themselves under pressure all year, and finally got a chance to see what happens when you turn that pressure on the opposition. Long may it continue.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS