Saturday 24 February 2018 / 07:03 PM


DRAGONS 30 d. WARRIORS 14 @ Waikato Stadium

The Warriors picked up where they left off in the second half at Penrith, while the fired-up Dragons barely missed stars Dugan and Widdop in a win where the scoreline flattered Stephen Kearney’s pancake-flat outfit.

THE MATCH: After a high-quality opening from both sides, the Warriors took a 6-0 lead in the 13th minute through milestone man Ben Matulino, who marked his 200th game for the club by pouring through a hole off a Kieran Foran pass.

Then it all fell apart for the defacto home side.

The Saints broke tackles and offloaded at will from that point on, terrorising the Warriors’ brittle and disorganised right-side defence for Kalifa Faifai Loa (20th minute), Joel Thompson (24th) and Tim Lafai (33rd) to charge over for tries.

Rookie winger Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad capitalised on a Dragons error near their own line to dive over in the corner just before the break to restrict the damage to 18-10, but the carnage continued as soon as play resumed in the second half.

The Dragons tore through the Warriors’ middle defence repeatedly, producing tries for Nene MacDonald, Faifai Loa and Taane Milne to power out to a 30-10 lead with 14 minutes left.

It could have been a lot uglier if Lafai’s boot (three from seven) had been more accurate and the Dragons had finished off more of their breaks on a greasy night in Hamilton.

The Warriors had the last say when Nicoll-Klokstad brilliantly won the race to a kick in the 76th minute, but the youngster’s second straight brace was buried under his team’s shocking ineptitude in virtually every department of play.

Of the more alarming stats from a one-sided affair: the Dragons made nine line-breaks to the Warriors’ one; the missed tackle count was a mind-boggling 57-22 against the Warriors; the Dragons made 20 offloads to the Warriors’ two; all five of the Dragons’ back-five ran for 139 metres or more.

Kearney’s focus on completions and structure (they actually finished on the positive side of an 11-7 error count) is strangling the Warriors, while their lack of commitment and desperation was palpable. Shaun Johnson had little to play off the back of, but it was the halfback’s most pedestrian performance in recent memory – though there were poor performers right across the park. With a 4-7 record one game away from the competition’s halfway mark, the club is at a familiar midyear crisis point.

If you’re making Kurt Mann and Kalifa Faifai Loa look like Brett Kenny and Eric Grothe, you know you’re in deep trouble.

It was also the Warriors’ 21st loss in 28 games at alternate New Zealand venues, one of the most baffling records in the premiership.

For the Dragons it was a landmark performance, breaking a three-match losing streak despite the absence of their two most influential players. They have a dynamic pack that can match it with any in the competition, while the entire line-up plays for each other in a manner that carried the unfancied Titans to the finals in 2016.

THE MAN: All the Dragons deserve a wrap: Josh McCrone and Kurt Mann punched well above their division; Russell Packer and Jack de Belin were tough and busy in the middle; and Lafai (who also ran for a game-high 239 metres), MacDonald and Faifai Loa all made two line-breaks each. But again it’s hard to go past Paul Vaughan. The buy-of-the-year contender made 216 metres from 20 carries and reeled off 24 tackles in 47 minutes on the paddock to leave the ball very much in Laurie Daley’s court.

THE MOMENT: The Warriors showed a schoolboy-level lack of ability to shut the ball down as the Dragons produced their first try, with MacDonald, Faifai Loa and Lafai all coming up with offloads before Faifai Loa finished off a 60-metre adlib effort. The Saints did as they pleased for the rest of the match.

BRONCOS 36 d. TIGERS 0 @ Suncorp Stadium

Unlike the Warriors, it was hard to fault the Tigers’ effort – they were just comprehensively outclassed by a super-slick Broncos outfit who have now won six in a row.

THE MATCH: The Broncos looked switched on from the outset and landed on the scoreboard in the 14th minute as superb lead-up work from Kodi Nikorima and Corey Oates saw Tautau Moga go over. Alex Glenn scored his first try of the season off an Anthony Milford pass nine minutes later.

James Tedesco threw an intercept pass to Jordan Kahu before running down the Broncos winger, but was sin-binned for hanging on too long in the tackle. Korbin Sims powered over a minute later with Milford chalking up another assist, then Kahu scored three minutes out from halftime for a 24-0 lead.

James Roberts sparked a 101-metre try five minutes into the second stanza, collecting a grubber in the Broncos’ in-goal and setting off down-field before eventually linking with Nikorima on the Tigers’ 40-metre line.

Nikorima then turned provider again to put Joe Ofahengaue through a hole, and Milford backed up the front-rower to get his name on the scoresheet.

The depleted Tigers did well to keep their try-line intact for the remaining 23 minutes, but Tedesco’s second disallowed try of the match ensured they stayed on the donut.

THE MAN: Ben Hunt is set to make his return next week, and it’s a travesty that Kodi Nikorima won’t be a starting half – barring injury or Origin selection – again in 2017. The diminutive Kiwi was superb again, with two of his line-break assists leading to tries while backing up to score one himself and finishing with 127 running metres and 25 tackles. He’s a class act and there’s a few clubs that should be opening their cheque-books to try and wrest him away from Brisbane – but Wayne Bennett may have twigged that Nikorima is the best option to wear the Broncos’ No.7 jumper from 2018, despite Jack Bird’s arrival.

THE MOMENT: James Roberts made a late bid for a NSW Origin debut with his searing run to set up Nikorima’s try. Continuing a fine season, the controversial centre is undoubtedly one of the game’s most dangerous ball-runners and would cause the Maroons no end of problems. With right-centre incumbent Josh Dugan failing to return in Round 11, Roberts shapes as an enticing option to slot in.

[YouTube – Deadroc Dundee]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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