Tasty Loss

It’s not often I feel good about a loss. In general, losing leaves a sour taste in the mouth that doesn’t go down well, but this week I find myself feeling more than satisfied, almost euphoric, licking my lips even, as if the team bus stopped at Wendy’s on the way back to Mt Smart. I’m telling you right now, get ready for finals football, Warrior Nation, this team is the real deal.

Going into this game I was nervous. I don’t like the water at the best of times, but the thought of Deep Sea Diving with Sharks on a 10-game winning streak sent a shiver up my spine. For the entire month of June there’s been a smile on my face — winners are grinners after all — but all the while that voice at the back of my head has been whispering. ‘Just wait ‘til you play someone good. Wait until you play a team who can attack, then let’s see what happens.’

We’d caught Brisbane at a good time, beat an awful Knights side, then scraped home against a Roosters team who seem to have forgotten that they are the same club who have been Minor Premiers for the past three seasons. There were encouraging signs among those three victories, but Cronulla was to be the true test to see how these men from Mt Smart stacked up against the big boys of the NRL. If you’ve been on this Warriors rollercoaster as long as I have, you will appreciate the need to sometimes fear the worst, you will understand that worrying about your hopes and dreams being savagely torn to shreds by a frenzy of Sharks is an entirely legitimate concern.

Instead, on Saturday night, the men from Mt Smart showed no fear. They struck first, then struck again, not retreating into their shell despite error upon error in the first half. The Sharks eventually replied, even went eight points clear early in the second half, but the Warriors responded once again. They bounced back when they otherwise might have fallen away. They may have lost in golden point, but they were certainly not defeated.

Don’t get me wrong, this game is absolutely one that got away, a missed two points they’ll look back at this week with regret. But there’s huge positives to take from pushing the league leaders all the way even when you weren’t at your best, when your biggest attacking threat was playing with one leg. There’s great strength to be gained from knowing they can take a hit, can face a challenge head-on, and respond.

And, really, is it such a bad thing that the Sharks have now won 11 in a row? Remember the last time that happened?

I’ll give you a hint: The year was 2002 . . .

Believe, Warrior Nation. Every loss hurts, but you’ll have that smile back in no time.

SET OF SIX

1) Is it really that difficult to be consistent? I know we spoke about this last week, but, guess what? The Bunker has done it again. In isolation, it’s hard to argue with the Jason Bukuya penalty try decision. A professional foul in a try-scoring situation. Seems simple, right? But when infringements are ruled one way in one week then a different way the next week, it frustrates everyone, fans and players alike. Although, for all Warrior fans complaining the penalty try cost them the game, was a penalty try was actually the better result? Had the Bunker followed last week’s ruling and given no try but 10 minutes in the bin, who’s to say the Sharks don’t score more than six points while Simon Mannering is off the field?

2) Play the ball on the F$#%ing mark! Does this bother anyone else as much as it annoys me? I just can’t understand why referees ignore this part of the game, even reward it sometimes. Apologies for the poor quality (a few technical difficulties), but check out the video below. Joseph Paulo is held by Ryan Hoffman. Instead of playing the ball on the mark, Paulo takes a step to the left and another step forward as he plays it. Michael Ennis sees Hoffman is now offside, runs into him and the referees blow a penalty. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t Paulo the one who has broken the rules to gain an advantage for his team? I say if the tackled player steps off the mark, then the marker should be allowed to stand their ground and tackle the dummy half as soon as they pick up the ball. Or maybe the refs should just start penalising anyone who walks off the mark. That’s probably enough ranting but, as you can probably tell, it frustrates me a lot. Just watch Greg Inglis next time he gets tackled and you’ll feel my pain.

3) I think Solomone Kata has actually become a good defender. I know, I can hardly believe it either, but I think it might have happened. I’d hate to jinx it, but Kata is starting to make the right decisions at the right time, and putting people on their back rather than watching them slide by. If this continues, securing his signature through to 2019 could be one of the best bits of business the Warriors have done in a long time.

4) Bodene Thompson and Simon Mannering were outstanding. Between them, they made 114 tackles (Mannering 67, including a try-saver on James Maloney inside the first 10 minutes) while missing only three. On attack, Thompson was a standout, helping create the linebreak that led to Jono Wright’s try, and his fancy footwork caused problems for the Cronulla defensive line all night. At times he almost looked like a slow-motion version of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. One second he’s there, the next second he’s not. This Warriors’ back row has taken a while to warm into the year, but they’re really starting to prove their worth.

5) What might have been? Momentum in sports is a delicate beast, and Saturday’s game had plenty of examples where a few centimetres at one end could have changed the outcome immeasurably. At the 32-minute mark, with the Warriors leading 10–0, a Shaun Johnson grubber bobbles through Ben Barba’s grasp and into the in-goal. Jono Wright dives at the ball but narrowly misses the opportunity to make it 16–0. Cronulla go up the other end and score a try before the Warriors touch the ball again. By halftime they’ve scored another try to lead 12–10. In the space of 8 minutes, all the Warriors’ good work is undone. Early in the second half it happens again. Jono Wright knocks on with the tryline in his sight and, minutes later, Cronulla are awarded a penalty try that extends their lead to 18–10. These are just a few such examples, but they demonstrate what a finely balanced game that was.

6) Jono Wright over Tui Lolohea? Huh? Okay, here’s the question that’s been on everyone’s lips since the news broke about an hour before kick-off. It was puzzling at the time and, after Wright’s performance, looks even harder to fathom in hindsight. I understand that Shaun Johnson was struggling, basically on one leg, maybe Thomas Leuluai was the same. I can also understand playing David Fusitu’a at fullback — who was excellent by the way — but I will never understand why you wouldn’t want Tui Lolohea to spend all 80 minutes of that game on the field. It wasn’t ideal for Nathaniel Roache to play 70 minutes on the wing against the Roosters, but if versatility was the worry, why didn’t Jono Wright sit on the bench? I don’t like to travel to the ‘Jono Wright is the worst player in the world’ camp that some in Warrior Nation often visit, but there’s no universe where he is a better rugby league player than Tui Lolohea. Andrew McFadden might be defending his decision to the media, but surely when he’s at home, sitting in his armchair dunking a Gingernut into his cup of tea, he knows he made the wrong call.

FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

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