The Warriors stepped onto Suncorp Stadium with a point to prove, and for a significant portion of Friday night’s match they did exactly that. They proved they can deliver the energy, enthusiasm and effort needed to challenge the best sides in the NRL and, in the first half especially, gave the Broncos a real run for their money. Up until the 54th minute, when Darius Boyd sliced through a reshuffled left edge, the game was in the balance and the Warriors had every reason to believe they could leave the Sunshine State with the two points. However, continuing an all-too-familiar tale, the men from Mt Smart couldn’t sustain their performance for 80 minutes, came away empty-handed and now find themselves looking up at the majority of the competition as we head into Round 3.
After watching the game a couple of times, I’m absolutely torn. Part of me wants to praise the much improved display, but the other part can’t help but wonder if this losing streak will ever come to an end. At halftime, the Warriors had 60 per cent of possession, had run for 90 more metres and had made only one error. They’d only scored one try, but they’d given themselves more than a puncher’s chance. But by the end of the game, Brisbane had made over 300 more metres and had 53 per cent of possession. Does that mean the Warriors aren’t too far away from putting it all together? Or that they’re just not good enough to play at a high level for long enough to secure a win?
Captain Hoffman suggested that without the injuries to Blake Ayshford and Manu Vatuvei things might have played out differently, and he might very well have a point. The Vatuvei injury, in particular, had multiple knock-on effects. In addition to losing two players who were making a positive impact to the Warriors’ go-forward, the forced interchanges meant that fatigue became a major factor for all the forwards, Issac Luke had to play the full 80 minutes (something he appears incapable of doing at this stage of the season) and 19-year-old Nathaniel Roache had to fill in at centre on an already fragile edge.
But would the result really have been any different? The Warriors were the better team in the first half but were down on the scoreboard. They defended well, but switched off at key times and it cost them two tries. They had a lot of the ball but rarely ever threatened, with Issac Luke’s try the only time the Warriors broke through the Brisbane defensive line all night. Jeff Robson was running the ball more than Shaun Johnson and our only attacking moves were some variation of a second-man play. After 10 straight losses, is this what we have become? A team who can accept losing, as long as we try hard? As long as we improve on the previous week? That’s all we can ask. You can’t always win, right? And it’s only game 2. Give it time. But what about the roster, look at all the stars, all the internationals? Shouldn’t they be beating everyone? Was Friday night a performance suggesting they are close? Or is it so close but yet so far? Maybe it’s just too early to be making sweeping generalisations or predictions.
The one thing I am confident of is that it’s the little things that matter most. It’s those small one-percenters that tell a huge story. They’re the things that are easy to gloss over, easy not to notice, but when you spot them you realise how important they can be. You find them in those moments when you pause the replay and start asking Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman why they wouldn’t just push up in a straight line, just in case, because even though it looks like the others have things covered, isn’t it better to be safe, better to take things into your own hands and make sure? It’s those little things that make you mad.
At the moment, it’s those little things that the Warriors are missing. It’s the difference between trapping the Broncos in the in-goal or letting them out and then giving a penalty away. The difference between jogging back as Jack Reed breaks through the defensive line, expecting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to make the tackle, or sprinting back in cover defence because you never know what might happen. It’s the difference between Jeff Robson blocking a grubber with his legs and passing to a teammate in full flight or Robson looking around and seeing no one in sight. Is it fitness? Are they too busy sucking in that extra breath? Or is it a case of players still finding their role in a team much changed from 2015? Is it all about to click? Or has it become habitual to switch off for that split second? Whatever it is, those little things can really break you down. Those little things, they really matter.
SET OF SIX
1) Brisbane are a defensive powerhouse. As easy as it is to say the Warriors only scored 10 points so they clearly didn’t create enough try-scoring opportunities, Brisbane deserves a fair amount of credit. Friday night was the tenth consecutive time Brisbane have held a team to under 20 points — very impressive. They seem to always have numbers on the edges and show no fear about defending multiple sets of six on their own line. Any side that comes away from Suncorp this season with the two points will have been made to work for them.
2) Sticking with the Broncos, Darius Boyd’s positional play at fullback was excellent. Perhaps the Warriors’ last-tackle execution made Boyd look even better, but, whether it was a short grubber for the in-goal or a clearing kick for territory, 99 times out of 100 he found himself at the right place at the right time and got Brisbane on the front foot on tackle 1.
3) Shaun Johnson and Jeff Robson are still working things out. Much has been made of Shaun Johnson’s quiet (or non-existent) running game on Friday night, and it is difficult to understand why the Warriors’ most potent attacking weapon decided not to unleash himself. On the other hand, Robson is running more than we might have expected and his ‘reliable’ kicking game hasn’t yet amounted to much. There’s some good signs, and some not-so-good ones, and it’s probably still too early to tell how this partnership will end, but if things don’t improve soon I’m guessing it will end sooner rather than later. Anyone missing Chad Townsend?
4) Solomone Kata, making tackles. I’ve been very critical of Solomone Kata’s defence, but I thought he did a great job on James Roberts on Friday. Long may it continue.
5) Bodene Thompson, breaking tackles. Well not quite, but nearly. Thompson has made a habit during these first two rounds of running straight at opposition halves, and is proving a hard man to stop. Johnson, Thompson and, dare I say it, Hurrell, will cause havoc for at least a few teams this season, I’m sure. Please make it true, Cappy.
6) Enter Albert Vete. With Ben Matulino set for a hefty suspension, Albert Vete is in line for another chance. As frustrating as it is to lose Matulino, it’ll be great to see big Albert back in the top grade after he finished 2015 in such impressive form.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS