The National Rugby League (NRL) round robin competition is nearing it’s end. After 26 solid weeks, the Minor Premiership title is at stake. For some, the challenge of the ‘finals series’ awaits. For others, it is another case of de ja vu–the Warriors lament a season ending loss.
Post-match, the team made a for a sorry site last sunday afternoon. Losing 24-36, it was certainly not the sides finest moment. In their 22 year history they have only made the finals 36% of the time. This season was the fifth since the last qualified for the semifinals, so the expectations in February and March were well and truly dashed.
Home loss to Tigers shuts the door on finals footy.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) August 28, 2016
They have spent up large this season, bringing in stars like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Isaac Luke. The duo were heralded to rescue the Auckland-based franchise from their long drought. Each would bring their wealth of success; Tuivasa-Sheck with the Roosters and Luke with the Premiership winning Souths Rabbitohs. However, injuries and lack of form by Luke hindered their integration.
Being the New Zealand team in the Trans-Tasman rugby league competition; dominated by Sydney-based franchises, has always been difficult. In a team consisting mainly of talented Kiwi representatives with a sprinkling of Australian-sourced talent, the mix has never been perfect. As has often been the case, they are captained by a State of Origin player, in Ryan Hoffman. Leadership has often been admired by others, but that fact alone has not brought success over the whole season.
At times, the side was brimming with confidence. Some magnificent victories have been bookend by lackluster efforts. For the most, they drifted from incredible to utter failure. For the faithfuls who were at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday, it was a hard pill to swallow.
Triple-try blitz undoes good work
In a game they dominated for long periods, again they failed miserably during the last 10 minutes. The 36-24 loss to the West Tigers ended their slim hope for finals footy.
The Warriors gave up the lead twice in the match. They led 18-12 at the break and amazingly 24-18 with 10 minutes to go. Fans were cheering loudly, maybe that was the reason for a series of crucial errors in those ten minutes. They lost focus and it cost them the game–an all to familiar sight of the Warriors game in the last five seasons.
Winger David Fusitu’u dropped bomb clean that started the triple-try blitz that shut the crowd down like a thunderstorm. Veteran Manu Vatuvei failed to execute minutes later, in a somewhat familiar sad case of ‘what now’. The horror show only brought smiles to Tigers fans, who were the only ones crowing in Auckland.
The mood turned sour, with fans leaving under a dark cloud. No semi finals and nothing to show for 25 rounds of ups-and-downs. It was summed up best when Hoffmann later told media:
“You need that urgency and desperation to get the ball and defend your try-line and we didn’t do that in the last 10 minutes . We are first-grade footballers , you can’t have minutes when we are not on.”
The three soft tries they let slip in those frantic last minutes cost them the game, and ultimately their season. The boys from Auckland know that they only have themselves to blame. For Cappy and his men, it is ‘back to the drawing board’.
Warriors Lament a Season Ending Loss
The Auckland-based side haven’t reached the last eight in the last five seasons. It is also the fourth time since 2011 that they have lost three or more of their final four games in the season. It was the same old story, as the Warriors lament a season ending loss.
”We just threw it away to be honest with you,” Andrew McFadden, Warriors coach post-match on nrl.com. ”Tonight’s performance was on the back of the last couple, just too many errors and (we) gave away soft points.
”It’s really shattering to be honest with you because we got the chance Saturday night [after Penrith beat the Gold Coast 15-14 to keep the Warriors hopes alive] and we threw it away today.”
That just about sums up the season. High hopes but when push comes to shove, left wanting. And now the pressure is applied from all sides. Fans are dejected. The management will self-analyze the squads credentials. Media will examine the results, it will be up to the players on the field (yet again).
Team Bonding Vital For Next Season
Team bonding will be key to the Warriors next season. The camaraderie between players and the coaching staff needs to be at it’s highest in a professional sport. It appears something is missing: the will to dig deep ,defend stoutly for the man next to you and to fight for survival. It has been evident that something has been missing?
Some will say it is simply being One. They should rally together and learn to put games to bed. What they in fact do is self-destruct (see Sunday’s result) The obvious focus on their performance and some off-field exploits mid season, appear to have changed the culture. Self assessment may have dented the old Warriors flamboyance. Many believe they have become too hesitant.
Most of all, what they need is to be consistent and ruthless to avoid another heartache. Bringing in Graham Henry and Eroni Clarke in the middle of the season to motivate players worked for a while, but you feel it would been better if it was from the beginning.
Senior players Shaun Johnson, Vatuvei, Luke, Tuivasa-Sheck, Beauden Thompson and Hoffmann have to lead by example. They need to set the bar for gifted youngsters like Fusitu’u, Solomone Kata and Tui Lolohea to aspire to. A strong bond must exist–the team is made up of 13 parts working together. After such introspection, only then will they find themselves in post-season competition.
Minor Premiership Title Chase To Go To The Wire
The battle for the top placed finish this NRL season will be between the Melbourne Stormers and Cronulla Sharks. A mere point separates the two teams going into the penultimate round. In a scintillating end to the regular season, these two teams go head-to-head on Saturday where the winner will claim the Minor Premiership Title.
The Stomers go into the game on back off a shock loss to the Broncos 16-26 last Friday. The Sharks however had a comfortable win over the Roosters 37-12. It will come down to the more confident side managing to seal the seasons end with a performance to match. Bookmakers have the Melbourne at short odds. It will be a fantastic match on Saturday at AAMI Park, Melbourne.
In reality, the Stormers are odd-on favorites to take the minor premiership and the way Suliasi Vunivalu has been scoring tries, Last Word On Sports says “just get the ball out to him”. The Melbourne side is a sure fire ‘finals footy team’. Being involved so often now, they should rise to the occasion and win this. Stormers by six over the Sharks.
Top Seven Places Sealed
Seven teams have all booked their finals spots. The top two sides are joined by the Canberra Raiders, defending champions the North Queensland Cowboys, Brisbane Broncos, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Penrith Panthers.
The final eighth spot will be a battle between Jarryd Hayne’s Gold Coast Titans side and the Warriors conquerors, the Wests-Tigers. Whoever can take maximum points will come out as finalist, and with crucial momentum going into the playoffs.
For the Titans, they have a home derby against their fellow Queensland side. Performing well recently, meeting the reigning champs the Cowboys is going to test their will. In a ‘battle of the round’ that will pit two of the leading stars of the game–Hayne and Johnathan Thurston. Both Dally M medalist’s (see picture) Thurston has the upperhand with his in-form fowards laying the platform for him. Hayne however, has the uncanny ability to find space with ease against any tight defensive team.
By Monday, the finalists will be known. How teams finish in this round will determine their seedings in the playoffs and ultimately ,who will they face. It’s all to play for with Broncos, Stormers, Cowboys and Raiders as your likely semi-finalists. Like many rugby games; despite which code you are playing, in the finals ‘anything can happen’.
Unfortunately, as has occurred in the last few years, the Warriors will not be there. That is a shame, but if you consider the whole season, it is hard to justify that they did earn a position inside the Top Eight. In 2017, things must change–they cannot lose another season in the same, problematic fashion.
“Main photo credit”