The Warriors’ paper-thin finals prospects were torn up in a 26-12 loss to Cronulla at Mt Smart Stadium that provided a stark reminder of exactly why they don’t deserve to be playing into September.
The hallmarks of their 2017 campaign – untimely errors, stilted attack, concentration lapses in defence and a lack of physicality in the middle – were all prevalent in a late collapse after the hosts trailed by just two points with 20 minutes remaining.
Solomone Kata’s brilliant long-range intercept try in the 29th minute was bookended by four-pointers to Kurt Capewell and Fa’amanu Brown, who were filling in for injured Origin stars Jack Bird and James Maloney, that both should have been avoided as the Sharks built a 12-6 halftime lead.
Capewell took advantage of a lack of urgency from Warriors winger Ken Maumalo to snatch a Chad Townsend grubber after just four minutes, while Kata’s stunning effort was negated immediately by a Mason Lino fumble two plays after the restart that saw Brown pounce.
The Warriors had the upper hand after the break and pegged the score back to 14-12 when Lino put Bodene Thompson over in the 49th minute with a deft pass, but that was a rare occasion where their wealth of red-zone opportunities didn’t come undone through poor execution.
Despite losing Brown to a sickening head-knock that resulted in Sam Lisone being put on report for a raised knee, the Sharks iced another two competition points with a slick backline move that result in a Sosaia Feki try before Jayson Bukuya’s sealer with nine minutes left.
How the Warriors finish this campaign will say plenty about the character of this squad – and determine how much external pressure coach Stephen Kearney will come under.
The Warriors are notorious poor finishers when the finals have become an early impossibility: in 2004 they lost their last six games, while in 2012 and ’15 they crumbled to lose their last eight. They also dropped their last four games last year when a top-eight spot was at their mercy, while they’ve gone down in Round 26 for five straight years.
The defeat to the Sharks was their fourth in a row.
Kearney is coming under increasing scrutiny for apparently trying to impart an over-structured style on the Warriors that clearly doesn’t suit them. Freewheeling, unpredictable attack was the club’s perpetual trademark – regardless of where they were on the table – but they rank near the bottom of the NRL for offloads in 2017 and have struggled to create scoring chances all year.
Kearney on chances of making the 8: “It’s never been about that. For me, it’s about improving week to week.” Not what I’d want to hear.
— Guy Heveldt (@GuyHeveldt) July 28, 2017
The go-to gripe has been ‘how can a team with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke not dominate?’ But other areas of the roster have been allowed to decay so drastically that the Warriors struggle to lay a platform for their blue-chip spine, or capitalise on the opportunities the superstar quartet manage to generate.
Completion rates and a few other stat-lines may have improved, but coming up with the right play at the right time is at an all-time low for the NRL’s great enigmas. There is not one part of what they do that rival teams would have any reason to fear.
With Kieran Foran, Ben Matulino, Ryan Hoffman and Manu Vatuvei likely to be joined in the departures column by Jacob Lillyman, and Tohu Harris and Leivaha Pulu the only confirmed additions for 2018, the Warriors’ prospects of ending their excruciating finals drought have never appeared bleaker.
Next week’s away clash against last-placed Newcastle is an absolute must-win for the sake of the current side’s ailing credibility.
I love you guys but you break my heart 😔
— Mesloot Hözil (@MeslootHozil) July 28, 2017