Warriors destroy capital hoodoo
The New Zealand Warriors’ trip to Canberra shaped as a potential banana skin in the notoriously fickle club’s bid to reach the finals. But despite coming off two tough losses to Brisbane and Manly, and the absence of No.7 linchpin Shaun Johnson – who they’ve never won without – the Warriors overcame a 17-year Canberra Stadium hex to carve out a 54-18 result against the hapless Raiders.
Some early jitters did little to stop the scoreboard from ticking over as the Warriors powered to a 28-0 halftime lead. Konrad Hurrell failed to return after the break due to a leg injury, but the points kept flowing as a reshuffled backline ran roughshod through an inept Raiders defensive effort.
All 17 Warriors contributed strongly – Feleti Mateo’s majestic passes for a rare Sam Rapira double was a particular highlight – while their try-line was not breached until the final five minutes. It was a boon for the Warriors’ for-and-against, eventually falling just shy of the Cowboys, who scored a 28-8 win over Gold Coast on Saturday.
Blockbusting Manu Vatuvei, in the most consistent form of his erratic career, claimed man-of-the match honours after bagging a second-half hat-trick – a try scoring feat also achieved today by Souths’ boom rookie Alex Johnston in their resounding 50-10 demolition of Newcastle in Cairns.
It wasn’t the first hoodoo the Warriors have overcome in 2014 – they chalked up maiden wins in Wellington and at Eden Park after a well-publicised run of outs at both venues, and that speaks volumes of the attitude and mental toughness new coach Andrew McFadden has instilled in this usually flaky side.
Although the injuries to Johnson, Hurrell and co. are concerning, the Warriors face bottom-four sides Cronulla, Newcastle and Gold Coast in the next three weeks, and are well-placed to embark on a hit-and-run mission for a top-four spot.
Broncos on the brink
The Wayne Bennett announcement was always going to have one of two impacts on the Brisbane Broncos’ promising campaign: either they would dig in and go on a giant-killing run towards the finals for their dumped mentor ‘Hook’ Griffin, or the disruptions would prove too much and they would fade out of contention in the face of a tough draw.
Unfortunately for the Broncos and the outgoing Griffin, the latter scenario is unfolding. The club’s character-laden victory over the in-form Warriors in Round 19 was to be a launching pad for a top-eight assault. But since the Bennett coup, the Broncos have crashed to a 30-8 loss to Melbourne, before a 16-4 defeat at the hands of a Manly side on a short turnaround on Friday night.
There have been strong individual performers – most notably Dale Copley – but the Broncos have appeared disjointed and distracted. Halfback Ben Hunt, one of 2014’s breakout stars, had his worst game of the season against the Storm and was ineffective at Brookvale.
Brisbane somehow needs to conjure at least four wins from their remaining five assignments against the Bulldogs, Rabbitohs, Knights, Dragons and Storm to be part of the September action.
Video killing the rugby league stars
It seems the NRL’s video referees are watching replays on a grainy VHS tape while the rest of us have the benefit of high def, such are the bafflingly inconsistent decisions trundled out by the men in the box week after week.
Refusing to overturn the original decision and ruling ‘No Try’ against Canterbury’s Chase Stanley was borderline, but somehow finding ‘separation’ – the ambiguous term that has been a scourge on the game for a decade – to take a fair try off Tim Lafai was inexcusable.
Adding further insult to the Bulldogs’ plight, video ref Steve Clark did not have the bottle to rule James Segeyaro offside in a vital second try awarded to Penrith.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler’s abject disappointment in his charges’ overall performance in their 22-16 loss saved Clark and his sidekick from an almighty press conference bake.
Meanwhile, a try awarded to the Warriors’ Ben Matulino seemed to fly in the face of the generally accepted application of the obstruction rule, which continues to be a lottery.
A week to remember for …
It was a day out for the debutants at Remondis Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Parramatta’s Bureta Faraimo, a late inclusion on the wing, scored a fine second-half double in the Eels’ 32-12 victory over Cronulla.
Meanwhile, Valentine Holmes produced a dazzling performance on the Sharks’ flank, making long busts to set up both of his side’s tries among three line breaks. The diminutive Holmes, who only turned 19 last week, is one of several brilliant youngsters to emerge in the Shire – a genuine positive in a catastrophic year for the club.
A week to forget for …
The Marvel Comics-themed jumpers did nothing for the woeful Canberra Raiders, who played like the socially withdrawn Bruce Banner rather than his “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” Incredible Hulk alter-ego portrayed in the Raiders’ playing strip. Remarkably, the 54-18 loss flattered the ramshackle home side, posting three late tries only after the injury-hit Warriors were reduced to 12 men.
Play of the week
Jarryd Hayne dominated the Round 21 highlights reel, but two tackles in the Roosters’ crucial 30-22 win over the Dragons also stood out. Twinkle-toed Roosters flyer Roger Tuivasa-Sheck put his body on the line to produce a wonderful try-saver on Brett Morris, while Dragons hooker Mitch Rein’s long chase and textbook cover tackle on a runaway Aidan Guerra was lionhearted.
Hayne was, yet again, magnificent for Parramatta, to the extent that coach Brad Arthur admitted his side probably would not have won without him – despite the eventual 20-point margin. The mercurial fullback scored two breathtaking long-range tries, while his clean-up work at the back and playmaking skills at the other end were equally sublime. It’s shades of 2009, with Hayne in line for a second Dally M Medal and the Eels on track for their first finals series in five years.
After all the drama surrounding coach Michael Potter’s future and the Robbie Farah-Gorden Tallis feud, Wests Tigers now face a season-saving assignment against the Melbourne Storm. The match doubles as a fund-raiser for injured former Tiger Simon Dwyer, but the Storm’s form and the Tigers’ internal dramas dictate there will be no fairytale result at Campbelltown Stadium.