League: Scoreboard belies even set of stats

By Peter Jessup

If you searched for positives from the Warriors' 24-8 loss at Cronulla there were quite a few.

They started both halves well, produced a decent completion rate and conceded fewer errors and penalties than the Sharks.

The down side is that they were unable to execute and convert territory to points early on in both halves and could not score at all in the second 40 as Cronulla made use of the howling southerly, which the Warriors had not, nailing four tries from kicks.

Looking ahead brings another downer - the front-running Manly Sea Eagles come to Mt Smart this Sunday refreshed after a bye.

The Warriors have been monitoring the progress of wing Manu Vatuvei closely after announcing he was fit to play two weeks ago then withdrawing him, and it seems sure he will come back to add sting to the right flank.

Aidan Kirk will shift again to the left after Michael Crockett struggled for height against the Sharks' jumpers and twice failed to secure Brett Kimmorley's kicks.

Five-eighth Michael Witt should also be included to add direction against his old club after playing for the Auckland Vulcans and that will allow Nathan Fien to start as hooker and the team to return to using Ian Henderson's impact from the interchange.

Witt was praised for his defence against Parramatta's feeder side Wentworthville despite the Vulcans going down 34-16. He kicked two from three shots at goal. The groin/hip injury that kept him out for a month will be checked this week but he came through the weekend okay.

Best of the four Warriors who turned out for the Vulcans at Mt Smart was second rower Epalahame Lauaki, said coach Bernie Perenara.

"He was busting tackles, making plenty of tackles, he was the pick of them. And I don't think he made a mistake."

Former Kiwis second rower Joe Galuvao scored three tries for the visitors and looked trimmed down and effective, Perenara said. And the Eels' demoted wing Eric Groethe also troubled the defence, setting up tries and scoring one himself.

The match review committee will look at a high tackle by Warriors centre Brent Tate but it looked innocuous and the penalty awarded by referee Ben Cummins should be deemed sufficient.

Of more interest to the reviewers will be Sharks captain Paul Gallen's use of his knees to force Warriors players down in the tackle and it will be surprising if he is not cited.

Gallen and fellow New South Wales teammate Greg Bird were both damaging for the Sharks, particularly on defence, as was former Aucklander Fraser Anderson. 2007 Kiwis wing Luke Covell featured prominently for the home team.

Too many of the Warriors close-to-the-line kicks from Grant Rovelli and Fien hit defenders close-range and are stifled, whereas opposition kickers find grass.

The Sharks scrambled to cover those on Saturday night and the Warriors didn't offer much else, bar a good run from under-20s new boy Ben Matulino to set Jerome Ropati up for their only try.

Cronulla completed just nine of 19 sets of six in the first 40 minutes but the Warriors were unable to capitalise on repeat bad passes that gave up turnovers.

By the end the Sharks had completed 27 of 41, the Warriors 28 of 39. The Sharks made 32 more tackles in the first spell but the end tackle counts were relatively even at Sharks 322, Warriors 326. Cronulla gave away nine penalties as they lay on the ball-carrier to slow the play, the Warriors conceded five. The Sharks made 17 errors, the Warriors 11.

They should have won, or at the very least been close.

The previous weekend against Souths it was defence that was the problem. On Saturday the defence gave up just one line break, it was lack of execution in attack that cost. Those two results and the looming storm clouds of Manly's arrival threaten to curtail their playoff aspirations. A run of wins a la 2007 will be needed, but are they capable?

There was no State of Origin hangover for the Roosters' forwards. Blues Willie Mason, Anthony Tupou and Craig Fitzgibbon, and Queenslander Nate Myles were all prominent in their team's 32-12 win over Penrith on Friday night.

But they beat a Panthers side that finished without a bench. Prop Tony Puletua went off with a rib cartilage tear and returned after a needle, hooker Luke Priddis suffered a knee strain that will keep him out for eight weeks, centre Michael Jennings limped off with an ankle strain and bench man Josh Bateman's season is over with torn pectorals.

The Broncos are also feeling the injury pinch. Their halfback Peter Wallace suffered a groin injury in Origin II and has undergone surgery. Both hookers are sidelined, PJ Marsh with a torn bicep and Michael Ennis with a knee problem. Skipper Darren Lockyer's return date remains uncertain.

The Raiders scored 28 unanswered points in the first half yesterday and went on to beat the Broncos 34-16,

In the other Sunday match, Nathan Hindmarsh scored a pair of tries and Luke Birt scored a try and kicked six goals as the Parramatta Eels beat Wests Tigers 44-6. * The Junior Warriors continue to grow in maturity, coming back from 0-8 to even 8-all by the break then pushing on to a comprehensive 38-16 win over Cronulla on Saturday.

The Warriors under-20s now sit in fourth place, with a points differential and away record the top side would love to have right now.

- NZ Herald

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