Saturday night was a tight tussle, with all three results in play right until Javid Bowen pounced on a loose ball and went the length of the field with a minute to go. The loss leaves the Warriors’ season in tatters — the hammer poised to smash that final nail into the coffin at any minute. Yet another year is set to pass in Warrior Nation without a taste of the playoffs. Another season that’s failed to meet even the humblest of expectations.
Townsville is a difficult place to go, and the Cowboys are a good side — even without Johnathan Thurston. In other circumstances, this would have been an acceptable loss, if there is such a thing. We’d sit back now and reflect on a game that was evenly fought and could so easily have swung the other way. Both Mason Lino and Kieran Foran looked certain to score — Lino in the first half and Foran in the second — until Gavin Cooper intervened. On another day, we might highlight the positives, might look to build on the good moments. But, unfortunately, Saturday night’s loss means there’s very little to build towards. It leaves us waiting for that hammer to fall, with very few reasons to be optimistic about the six games still remaining in 2017.
So, instead of participating in the tense race to the finals, we’re forced to lament what might have been had the men from Mt Smart showed that level of effort and commitment in every match this season. Instead of focusing on easing the pre-match nerves as we fight for home ground advantage, we must find more unconventional ways to enjoy the rest of the year, hoping to see new talents emerge or familiar faces given a licence to thrill now the pressure is off. Most of all, we’re forced to hope simply that the Warriors will compete and fight hard, for the jersey and for the fans who will stick with them to the end, even if that effort turns out to be too little, too late.
SET OF SIX
1) Kieran Foran had 24 carries. It’s a staggering number, and more than double his output in recent weeks. It was great to see, and no surprise that he had a big hand in almost everything positive that came out of the Warriors on attack. As good as it was, it’s left me feeling more frustrated than encouraged: why did it take Shaun Johnson’s injury for Foran to take on a bigger role?
2) Kick pressure was almost non-existent. While the general effort against the Cowboys was strong, one area that was lacking — and has been all season — was kick pressure, and perhaps this small part of the game sums up the Warriors’ season. It’s the one-percenters that are missing, those extra efforts and hustle plays that can seem small but often turn out to be the winning or the losing of a match. The strong defensive efforts for four or five tackles — a good job almost done, but not quite finished off. When the men from Mt Smart look back at this season, I hope they’ll look back to moments like when they rushed to pack a scrum just before halftime and see that those extra efforts can have huge rewards.
3) Mason Lino made an encouraging return to first grade. Initially I was surprised when Lino was selected over Ata Hingano, but it was great to see him show so much confidence, particularly with ball in hand. He forced three line-dropouts in the first 15 minutes of the match and looked calm and composed despite the importance of the occasion. He’s put in the hard yards at both the NYC and ISP levels and, with Kieran Foran on the move next year, Lino’s performance suggested that he intends to make a strong push for a full-time NRL gig.
4) Jason Taumalolo is awesome. I don’t know how anyone tackles this guy. He’s an absolute giant, with great footwork at the line and a huge motor. It’s never easy to watch someone run for so many metres against the side you support, but in Taumalolo’s case it’s hard not to admire everything he does. I can’t wait to see him trample over everything in sight once he gets that Kiwis jumper on later in the year.
5) Bodene Thompson deserves a new contract. While the outcome of the season has become clear in recent weeks, there’s still a few questions to be answered about the playing roster for 2018. The Warriors have been linked with plenty of big names, but perhaps the most difficult questions surround the future of their own off-contract players. While I’d argue the most important area to resolve is the propping rotation, I’d like to see Bodene Thompson back in 2018. While it hasn’t been his best year in the NRL, I’ve been particularly impressed with Thompson’s performance over the past two weeks — as others have drifted in and out of these crucial encounters, Thompson lifted when it mattered most.
6) Playing for pride. Another season done and dusted, but there’s still six weeks to go. There’s a chance they might be six miserable weeks, with small crowds at Mt Smart and a drawn-out post-mortem of why and how things went so wrong, but for me it’s crucially important that the Warriors finish this season on a high note, simply out of respect for the loyal fans who support them in the good times and the bad. It’s incredibly frustrating for the season to be determined this far from the end, and even more disappointing considering the individual talents that fill the team sheet each week. It’s too late to make this season especially memorable, but we fans care about that Warriors jersey. We care about what it means to wear one and what that emblem is supposed to represent. It should be Stephen Kearney’s goal for the remainder of this season to figure out which 17 players in his squad share that passion for the club and pride in their performance. If he can do that, this next six weeks won’t count for nothing.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS