As I sat down in front of the keyboard, I had every intention of crafting a well-thought-out piece about how the Warriors recent golden point heartbreak is reflective of their season to-date, how every time it seems like things are going well, that we might actually be on the verge of something great, something happens to derail the process and the rollercoaster spirals off course. How the ten-minute period where the men from Mt Smart came from 22–4 down to tie things up as the clock ticked over 80 minutes was a microcosm of what this team is capable of, but in the end it all counts for nothing without the two points. I was planning to be thoughtful, to add something to the conversation, to offer a fresh perspective and maybe encourage you to look at things in a new light.
I’ve spent almost every moment since Jarrod Croker drove a dagger into my heart trying to understand why this keeps happening. I’ve been racking my brain for the reasons, watching the replay over and over again, trying to get inside the minds of the players, trying to figure out why Shaun Johnson wasn’t taking it to the line more, why there’s never any effort to get Manu Vatuvei the ball in space, why no one runs off Ben Matulino, whether Sam Lisone at first receiver is a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve searched hard for answers to so many questions. How can we dominate such long periods of the game, with a line-up filled with so much attacking talent, and have so few points to show for it? How can we defend so well for so long and then concede two tries in three minutes?
I’ve considered the travel factor, how far it is from Auckland to Perth and back again, and then the extra miles of a trip to Canberra all within a week. I’ve tried to think about things from a coaching perspective, wondered if the right decisions are being made, what I might do differently, whether the right personnel are on the field at the right times.
I’ve looked for other things to blame. The bounce of the ball, bad luck with injuries. If Bodene Thompson was fit, would that have helped? What about Albert Vete? He’s been playing with so much energy lately. And what about the referees, surely they did something wrong?
And I’ve also tried to be critical, impartial, wondered whether these men from Mt Smart maybe just aren’t as good as these other teams, can’t stay focused for long enough, don’t play hard enough or make too many mistakes. But I really don’t think that’s it. Not any more.
That first loss to Cronulla was easy to explain, a valiant effort against the top-of-the-table side in the midst of an enormous winning streak. If anything, it was a sign of how close we are to greatness, a demonstration of how capable this side is.
Losing in golden point for the second time seemed like the wrong result, like the better team didn’t win. Maybe the travel and the weather had tipped the balance in Manly’s favour, but if we kept playing like this then eventually we’d win more than we lose, surely, because we were doing so many things right and playing patient, positive football and with the depth in the squad and our Top 8 fate in our own hands, the world would eventually balance things out.
Then it happened a third time. That’s right, a third time.
And the only conclusion I can come to is that life isn’t fair. Apologies if you were hoping for something more insightful, more meaningful. But the only logical explanation is that something has disrupted the karmic balance of the world and for some reason hard work and effort and commitment is no longer being rewarded. A comeback of such epic proportions, a kick from the sideline to send the game to golden point. It wasn’t meant to end in a loss. How could things deviate so far from the script? I don’t understand it. I’ll never understand it. All that we have learned is that it doesn’t matter how many times you visualise the team song, or whether or not you’re wearing your lucky undies. This is a tough, cruel world we live in, and injustice is everywhere.
SET OF SIX
1) Issac Luke has ice in his veins. Ultimately his sideline conversion as time expired counted for nothing, but that doesn’t take away what an absolutely clutch kick it was. Outstanding. The Fusitu’a try wasn’t too bad, either.
2) Sticking with Issac Luke, if you haven’t had a chance to watch the piece on him on The After Match, see if you can track down a replay. It’s an extended version of the story below and is well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.
3) Tweet of the week. Pure gold.
4) Jordan Rapana, future Kiwi. Rapana ran for a game-high 177 metres, dealt with everything thrown his way on defence and barely put a foot wrong all match. Saturday was a continuation of his excellent season to-date and I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t make his Kiwis debut later this year.
5) What do we do with Tui? The question on everyone’s lips once again. If it wasn’t already obvious, with each passing week of Lolohea out of the starting line-up, it seems clearer that he is one of the best 13 players in this Warriors side. With the season entering must-win territory, the pressure on Coach Cappy to find a spot for him somewhere is mounting. As well as David Fusitu’a has been playing, the most logical move seems to slot Tui back to fullback, put Fusitu’a on the wing and then decide between Maumalo or Vatuvei for that last wing spot. But will it happen?
6) Will the Warriors make the 8? I’m trying to remain optimistic, but the next two weeks against the other Top 8 contenders — Penrith and Gold Coast — will define their season. Win both those games and the men from Mt Smart look playoff bound. Lose both and it looks like another year of ‘What if?’
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS