Fond farewell . . . almost

You couldn’t just let us have it, could you?

Would it really have made a difference if you’d lost? You’d be playing the Rabbitohs instead of the Dragons. You’d have even had another day to recover, 24 more precious hours to prepare for finals footy.

But you didn’t have it in you, did you Mr Graham?

I saw you on the sideline, tearing that GPS off and kicking it to the curb.

I saw you leaping up to celebrate when you took the lead again, when you thought you had us beat. You weren’t going to come back. Des wanted to give you a break, keep you fresh. But I know what you’re like. When Tui did this, nothing was going to stop you from returning to that field.

And yes Mr Graham, you may have won the battle . . . but, in a way, you helped us win the war. Because Sunday night wasn’t about the result for us, Sunday night was about giving the fans something to cheer about, something to believe in. Sunday night was about something bigger than the two points, it was about the hearts and minds — it was about making us remember what it feels like to be alive.

I’m sure you are aware, Mr Graham, that for the last month the Warriors have been the laughing stock of this competition. They’ve been the butt of everyone’s jokes, been torn apart on social media and inspired articles such as this. Their performances have put everyone under the microscope — the staff, the players, the captain, the coach — no one has been spared. And it breaks our hearts.

We Warrior fans prepared for the worst. We expected to lose. As much as we hoped for mercy, or for a miracle, we expected a thrashing. And, although it may seem like it right now (I’ll get to the point soon), I’m not here to tell you that losing doesn’t matter.

Losing sucks.

On Saturday I was a man who was drained, a man who had let the previous seven weeks take their toll, a man who was resigned to defeat — a man who had all but lost hope. But by Sunday evening, I was a man who had been through the ringer and came out the other side. I was a man who yelled at the TV, a man who lost control of his emotions, a man prone to spontaneous fist-pumping, a man who was high-fiving not just one of the cats, but both of them, because what he’d just seen deserved to be celebrated with everyone in attendance. On Sunday night, for a few glorious moments, I was a man who thought his team might actually win.

People will tell you that they’d rather lose by plenty than lose in the last seconds — so it doesn’t hurt so much. But I’ll never believe that. There’s nothing better than when the heart is racing, when you absolutely don’t know what will happen next. When there’s a hundred scenarios racing through your head and deep down you’re so excited but you’re trying not to get too excited in case you jinx it and then you start to worry because you’ve already imagined winning the game and you can’t take that thought back so now it’s too late but the game is still going and you have to stay in the present, need to make that tackle, please make that tackle because if you do I’ll be so proud of you because it’s been a difficult few weeks for everyone but you earned this one and you really fought hard and played with pride and we all deserve to win this time.

We can’t applaud the fact that the Warriors lost. In fact, it’s probably a sad reflection of their 2015 season that social media lit up after the match to applaud that they tried hard. But the point I’m trying to make, Mr Graham, is that these young men — the Tui Loloheas and Albert Vetes of this world — they made us believe again. They made us believe in a universe where the Warriors could actually win a game of rugby league, that there could be a day when the men from Mt Smart could do amazing things, could entertain us, excite us, make us proud.

They gave us hope.

And remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Set of Six

1) Can Thomas Leuluai play centre? I’ve got a lot of time for Leuluai, and everything coming out of the Warriors’ camp and from the ‘experts’ is that his influence on the field is incredibly valuable. But when you hear the words ‘Lolohea dancing, oh boy he’s good!’ doesn’t it make you wonder how incredible it would be to see Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Johnson and Tuimoala Lolohea at 1, 6 and 7 next year? Here comes the hot-stepper, anyone?

2) While other reputations were damaged in the tough times, Albert Vete stood out as a beacon of light. Emerging as a leader of the pack while Ben Matulino was out suspended and Jacob Lillyman was injured, Vete stepped up to the plate — I’m very excited about watching his career develop over the next few seasons.

3) Wasn’t this the most confusing camera sequence you’ve ever seen? I’m certainly no technical expert, and the commentary team put it down to shutter speeds, but my mind still can’t understand whether the ball ever left Curtis Rona’s hands.

4) And while we’re talking about decisions, is anyone else still mad about this penalty against Dominique Peyroux?

I’m not sure how you get penalised for getting knocked over by a Morris twin, and if you can’t remember what happened next, let me refresh your memory:

P1010869

And then the Doggies scored again to turn the game from 10–8 Warriors to 20–10 Bulldogs in a matter of minutes. Furious.

5) Catches win matches. Maybe we should blame the commentator’s curse, but, after a scrappy first half, the Warriors only made one mistake in the second. Unfortunately, it proved to be fatal. The men from Mt Smart have learned some harsh lessons in 2015 — one can only hope that knowledge is power.

6) Okay, I digress, but was anyone else wondering how James Graham celebrated this week’s late matchwinner? If I had to guess, I’d say flame-grilled chicken with PERi-PERi sauce.

The Golden Point

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night. Season 2015 has come and gone for the men from Mt Smart (although don’t forget the NSW and Holden Cup sides have knockout games this coming weekend). An NRL Warrior season review is in the works, so keep your eyes out for that, but, in the meantime, try to remember what it felt like in those last five minutes on Sunday night, when you could almost taste that victory, when your heart was racing and nothing else mattered except what was happening on that field. Remember what it felt like to be an equal again. I know it was only a brief moment, surrounded by many sour moments over the past few weeks, but we’ll win — someday — and won’t it feel so good?!

Full Match Highlights

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