So Far, Yet So Close

It’s a long way from Auckland to Perth: 5343 kilometres if you believe everything Wikipedia tells you. A commercial flight takes more than seven hours in each direction So if you’re going to go all that way, you want to make sure it’s worthwhile, particularly if you’re travelling primarily for business not pleasure.

Always fly near the pointy end of the plane if possible — it projects a sense that you mean business, and shows everyone in your travelling party that they are a valued member of the team. It’s also recommended that you wear matching clothing, to signify unity, and that you make the journey a day in advance. This allows time to acclimatise to your surroundings, and also provides an opportunity to test your ideas in your new environment prior to kick off.

When you walk into the arena, it’s important to start well. Ideally you want to chalk up your key points early, demonstrate why your skills are superior and then finish with a flurry. Hopefully when the meeting ends, you’ve achieved the desired result. A standing ovation is generally a good sign everything went well.

So when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck calmly gathered in Kieran Foran’s pinpoint kick to make it three unanswered tries in the first 17 minutes, Operation How to Finally Win in the West was going to plan. The men from Mt Smart were ahead 16–0, and looking in total control. It’s generally not advisable to celebrate too vigorously before the presentation has ended, but the fist-pumps were flying all throughout Warrior Nation.

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As visions of newspaper headlines containing ‘overcoming the Perth hoodoo’ and ‘breaking the curse’ flashed through my mind, Api Koroisau and Tom Trbojevic combined, a little shiver went down my spine and the trajectory of the meeting shifted completely. So, rather than discuss the 40 minutes where the Warriors broke from the script, here’s a gif of a cat wearing a Santa suit.

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Then, just as I was considering whether I could remain on the couch while I buried myself in pillows or if I’d have to move to the floor to produce a total blackout, Akuila Uate spilled his lollies and the Warriors sprung back to life. They huffed and they puffed, but, despite their best efforts, somehow couldn’t find a way to blow the house down and walked away from Perth empty-handed yet again.

When the meeting ended, it felt like we’d made a strong case, a long way from home against a side sitting in the Top 4, but on reflection, after nine straight losses in Perth, maybe it’s time to suggest we never try to do business there again.

SET OF SIX

1) The Warriors lost more than just the two points. Injuries to Ryan Hoffman (broken metatarsal), Albert Vete (broken arm) and the suddenly dynamic Nathaniel Roache (hamstring) makes the loss even tougher to stomach. The timing couldn’t be worse, both for the club and for the players, with all three yet to confirm their playing future from next season on. Throw in the fact that Kieran Foran still doesn’t look quite right, and the game looks far more damaging that the scoreboard reflects.

2) The pace and urgency of the Manly backline got them back into the match. It’s a regular feature of these reviews to praise the Warriors’ outside backs for the way they start sets and carry their side out of the danger zone, but it was Manly’s backs who shone brightest in Perth. Led by Dylan Walker, the Sea Eagles sprinted into every hit-up, which led to quick play-the-balls and put the Warriors on the back foot. With the Warriors’ defensive line ragged, Manly capitalised, scoring 26 unanswered points during a 36-minute burst split either side of halftime.

3) Stepping off the mark is one of my biggest pet hates. Excuse me while I rant for a minute, but is it really that difficult for referees to make sure players stand up straight and play the ball where they were tackled? It happens every game, but Manly were experts at pushing the boundaries of this law, stepping both sideways and forwards as they rolled the ball to the dummy half. It sounds like a minor gripe, but if done effectively (especially following a quick play-the-ball), stepping off the mark puts the opposition markers offside and gives the dummy half room to exploit. On multiple occasions, Api Koroisau pounced on the extra space provided, or the Warriors were penalised. In a game where territory is so vital, sometimes these small decisions can completely swing the momentum of a match.

4) Shaun Johnson looked a million bucks. When you get paid the big dollars, everything you do gets examined under a microscope, and Shaun Johnson is no stranger to having his strengths and weaknesses dissected on a weekly basis. Against the Sea Eagles, he put his hand up in a big way, and clearly wanted the ball in his hands in every key moment. Ultimately he wasn’t able to lead his side to victory, but if he plays like that every week, that big fat contract of his might even turn out to be a discount.

5) I don’t understand the lapses in concentration. I’m constantly baffled by the way this 2017 iteration of the Warriors seems to switch off at key moments. It’s just the little things sometimes, like a great defensive effort for four tackles and then not showing enough urgency on play 5 and allowing the opposition to get out of their own end, or something as simple as that. At 16–0, I’d have expected effort levels to lift, buoyed by the excitement of the attack firing on all cylinders and an error-riddled opening stanza from Manly. It was a clear opportunity to put the foot on the throat and wrap up a valuable two points. Instead, the Warriors went flat for just a few moments and, in what felt like nothing more than the blink of an eye, Manly were back in it.

6) So close, but yet so far. It’s a phrase that threatens to sum up the Warriors’ season. Sitting four points outside the Top 8 with eight games remaining, time is fast running out. The year is trending in a familiar direction — towards a spot just outside the playoffs — but more than ever this current season feels like a real missed opportunity. The Bulldogs at Forsyth Barr, the Panthers at Pepper Stadium, the Eels loss and now Saturday’s near-miss against Manly. They’ve played some great football at times this season, but I fear it won’t be long before we’ll be looking back in regret at these very winnable games where the men from Mt Smart came out on the wrong side of the ledger. There’s still time, and this Warriors squad feels so close to being good, even to being really good, but yet the playoffs seem so far away.

FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

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