The film opens with the captain of the New Zealand Warriors rugby league team (Simon Mannering) walking through a door marked ‘Staff Only’. As the door closes, the action cuts quickly to a young boy (James Tamou), also a New Zealander who, at the age of 13, leaves his country of birth to move to a mysterious island to the west. We soon learn that Tamou, now a grown man, has joined the North Queensland Cowboys (also a rugby league club, based at the cleverly named 1300SMILES Stadium). It is there that he begins his association with the premier halfback in the National Rugby League (Johnathan Thurston), a man well known for his maniacal laughter.
A rugby league game kicks off at a location called Mt Smart Stadium, the New Zealand Warriors’ home ground, in Penrose, Auckland. It becomes clear that Mannering’s team is pitted against a Cowboys side featuring both Tamou and Thurston, but, early in the match, it is a young star named Lolohea (Tui) who steals the limelight. Sharing his name with a native New Zealand bird, Tui skips past the North Queensland defenders on his way to the tryline. In the early stages, Tui is ably supported by a young sidekick called Lino and, within 12 minutes, the Warriors have amassed a total of 16 points, while the Cowboys are yet to score.
While the Warriors celebrate, the camera cuts to Thurston and Tamou underneath the goalposts. The duo are clearly talking, but it is not clear what is being discussed. A few minutes later, after being hit by a big tackle from Mannering, Tamou falls to the floor and doesn’t get up. He stays down for almost 10 minutes, before he is placed on a stretcher and carried from the field. The voiceover suggests this is a blow to the Cowboys’ chances, but, onscreen, a wide grin stretches across Thurston’s face before we flash back to a scene from the recent past.
A man sits at a desk, typing on the keys of a laptop computer. A narrator explains how the Queensland rugby league side is ‘too old’ to win the third State of Origin match:
‘The Blues will go to Suncorp and enjoy the parochial crowd being against them. They’ll be ready for it — look at the way our forwards are playing and the class of the outside backs. Origin will be a beautiful blue colour after game three – not that crappy maroon colour.’
The man signs his name: Steve Mortimer, before a quick cut displays Thurston, in a maroon-coloured uniform, using Mortimer’s comment as motivation to carry out a murderous rampage on the state of New South Wales. At that moment, it becomes clear that Thurston’s laughter is just a cover — in reality, he is an evil genius capable of amazing feats of skill.
Back in real time, and with Tamou off the field, Thurston (or JT as he is also known) begins to terrorise Mannering’s men. He slices through the defence, pins the Warriors in their own territory and directs the majority of his attack towards the youthful Solomone Kata and Ken Maumalo. As JT continues to tear the Warriors apart, the scenes are interspersed with visions of the crowd, dressed mainly in Warrior-related attire, either rushing for the exits or covering their eyes in horror.
The movie ends as a bloodbath, young Warriors are strewn everywhere, cut to ribbons by Thurston and his supporting cast. A polar bear with six cubs (Ben Hannant) speaks to a reporter while other players exchange pleasantries.
In the film’s final scene, we learn that James Tamou is cleared of serious injury. Simon Mannering, and his coach Andrew McFadden, give each other a rueful look, but it is too late to do anything about it now — the damage is done. Thurston’s maniacal laughter can be heard in the background as the credits roll.
Set of Six
1) If only there could have been more opportunities for Tui Lolohea. The try he scored was Shaun Johnson-esque, stepping and accelerating past defenders on his way to the line. His 12 minutes of magic were a real shining light on what turned into an otherwise gloomy day.
2) There was some absolutely awful defending on Saturday night. Okay, anyone who watched the game doesn’t need a reminder, but it has to be said. The Thurston try was particularly dreadful to watch, but Solomone Kata and Ken Maumalo might not enjoy the video review session much either.
3) I’m still not sure why the Warriors’ edge defenders spend so much time backpedalling. Is this a coaching failure? Poor defensive reads? A lack of confidence? A lack of trust in each other? Inexperience? All of the above?
4) For all the Warriors’ failings, it can’t be denied that Johnathan Thurston is an absolute magician. The way he controlled that match, especially once Michael Morgan left the field, was magnificent. JT’s kicking game, in particular, made sure that, once the Cowboys hit the front, the men from Mt Smart never had a chance.
5) Rugby league needs to establish some clear guidelines about what constitutes a sinbin. Too many times, teams with good defensive structures will slow the play-the-ball down and commit penalty after penalty on their own line. It’s a tactic that can backfire, but in many cases it stops the momentum of the attacking side and the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. There seems to be a desire from the rule-makers to speed the game up, so maybe they need to take a look at rugby union’s use of the yellow card to try to put a stop to professional fouls.
6) The Wooden Spoon is still on. It’s a horrible thought, and one that would take a few upsets in the final two rounds to achieve, but the fact it is still possible shows how badly this season has fallen off the rails. It’s hard to see anything other than 8 losses in a row to finish the year, leaving a very sour taste in the loyal mouths of Warrior Nation.
The Golden Point
There’s been plenty of venting these past few weeks, and it’s hard to dispute the fact that the performances have been unacceptable. But, with the injuries and suspensions mounting, it’s difficult to know what else the club can do, at least in terms of personnel. This season is over — we’ve only got to put ourselves through the wringer two more times — but the real question is whether this run of results will leave a lasting impact on these young players, and on both the perception and reality of the club.
Full Match Highlights