Warriors' finals hopes in the air after loss to Newcastle

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 20 Jun 2021, 4:46PM
(Photo / Photosport)
(Photo / Photosport)

Warriors' finals hopes in the air after loss to Newcastle

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 20 Jun 2021, 4:46PM

The Warriors' finals hopes continue to dive, after a costly 10-6 loss in Newcastle.

Just like the earlier clash with the Knights this season, the Warriors were sunk by a late try, with Brodie Jones crossing in the corner in the 75th minute.

This defeat will be extremely tough to take. They had plenty of chances, but couldn't make anything count, with their only try coming from a Knights fumble.

It's the Warriors' third straight loss, and they have only won one of their last six matches.

As has happened so many times in 2021, the margins were fine, but the game was lost in the first half. The Warriors couldn't take advantage of a gale behind them, nor the Knights being down to 12 men, and the 6-4 margin was never going to be enough.

The halves struggled to provide direction, amid a general lack of fluidity. The powerful charges of Ken Maumalo were also missed, in conditions that would have been perfect for him. Reece Walsh had a mixed game, though never stopped trying and provided a lot of bright moments.

Conditions were awful. A blustery wind roared down the field, and the rain was near horizontal for most of the game.

All eyes were on Walsh early. The fullback had a tricky take from the kickoff, as the ball blew back towards the Knights, then dropped the ball cold from an attacking scrum.

But the 18-year-old soon provided an early highlight reel. He made a gutsy catch, then beat four defenders on a 70-metre run, before being caught just short of the try line.

The Warriors opened the scoring in the 24th minute, probably against the run of play, after Euan Aitken scooped up a loose ball from a Knights error, sprinting from inside his own 22.

But as has happened many times this season, they couldn't build on it. The team made a mess of the kickoff, conceding a line drop out in a classic coach-killer moment. The Knights forced a repeat set, before Lachlan Fitzgibbon powered past Eli Katoa from close range.

But the home team lost their try scorer in the 33rd minute, binned after he caught Kodi Nikorima high. That opened the door for some late opportunities, but the Warriors couldn't profit. The final two minutes of the half were particularly painful to watch, as they couldn't engineer anything from consecutive sets on the Newcastle line.

The first half was messy, punctuated by errors and cheap penalties. Nikorima was caught on the fifth tackle, while Sean O'Sullivan was pinged for a needless shepherd. While they were competing well in the ruck, they lacked structure and organisation and couldn't make the most of the tailwind, hampered by a 67 per cent completion rate.

A Jake Clifford penalty levelled the scores, after Walsh spilled a towering Mitchell Pearce bomb. The Warriors were still guilty of not playing to the conditions – with low percentage plays in their own half and flat passes – and only a delightful Walsh goal line drop out prevented a repeat set.

In a tight match, there was a strange lack of urgency at times, epitomised when the Warriors forced a goal line drop out, then didn't prepare for the kick, which left Ben Murdoch-Masila tracking back over his halfway line to retrieve it.

There were further opportunities, without the last-tackle polish, and Walsh shanked a field goal attempt. A bust through the middle of the ruck – as Kane Evans failed to cover – set the Knights for their last raid. A magnificent Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tackle saved a certain try, but Jones crossed on the next play.

Knights 10 (Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Brodie Jones try; Jake Clifford goal)
Warriors 6 (Euan Aitken try; Reece Walsh goal)
Halftime: 6-4

text by Michael Burgess, NZ Herald