League: Underdog Warriors hang on to win ugly

By Peter Thornton

Warriors 16
Broncos 12

If there is one anomaly that has plagued the Warriors success in the NRL, it is their ability to beat the competition's frontrunners and then lose to teams they should beat.

The past three weeks aptly sum up that blip.

They out-muscled the Melbourne Storm 8-6 in the wet, only, as coach Ivan Cleary put it, to "beat themselves" in the debacle against Souths, and then deliver a quality performance to outclass the in-form Broncos.

The Warriors certainly love playing as underdogs.

With only four matches remaining this win was crucial to the Warriors' top-eight ambition. But all Warriors fans whose playoff hopes were boosted last night should know by now to tone down their excitement.

It was a performance full of all the thrills and champagne football you hope for, especially as Wade McKinnon was back. But there were just as many nervous moments too.

More than 13,000 fans braved the cold at Mt Smart to see the Warriors win their seventh game of the past 11 encounters.

Admittedly it came against a depleted Broncos outfit. With four first-team regulars Justin Hodges (suspended), Tonie Carroll (injured), Sam Thaiday (discipline) and David Stagg (wife in labour) out of action they were there for the taking.

The partnership of skipper Darren Lockyer and Peter Wallace is improving all the time so the visitors were expected to enjoy an edge in the halves. And they did.

Even though the Warriors had the lion's share of possession, the six and seven for Brisbane were influential. Their kicking game was superior and their attack clinical. It showed again that a world-class half combination is worth its weight in gold.

Lockyer controlled the game like a puppeteer and that was only countered by home side desperation. They scrapped their way to score any points they could. And it worked.

While Brisbane's 34-6 demolition of Canberra last week had them looking like real final contenders this showed that without the host of ball-runners usually at Lockyer's disposal they are not the same team. It was all finesse without the finish.

Conversely, Jerome Ropati, who had his best game of the season, and former Bronco Brent Tate summed up the home side's fighting spirit. The Broncos treated the contest like a test match and took the shots on goal on offer while the Warriors gambled and, eventually, it paid off.

Reserve Ben Matulino confirmed his increased maturity with a try after 28 minutes. That joy was short-lived as Karmichael Hunt, who had a brilliant positional game, and Lockyer laid on a brilliant try for prop Ben Hannant to lead 8-4. It looked as if the Broncos, even without their quartet of hit-men, were going to advance their hopes of hosting a semifinal.

The home side played with more than double the desperation of last week. Sam Rapira's loose carry before the break looked to have gifted the Broncos the halftime lead but a magic chip kick from Nathan Fien gathered by fullback McKinnon saved that. One of the club's most potent attacking weapons capped his return with a crucial try for a 10-8 halftime lead. It was rare to see Hunt out of position.

Michael Witt celebrated his return with a scrappy try after a Manu Vatuvei tap-back. With 13 minutes remaining Witt did what he was selected for, and edged the Warriors to a crucial eight-point lead with a 40m penalty. Warriors-bound wing Denan Kemp scored moments later on the end of a Wallace kick but Corey Parker couldn't convert.

Another tense finish ensued but the Warriors showed they can hang on and, importantly for finals football, they can win ugly. Lance Hohaia showed his value again. If they make the playoffs they will enjoy their underdog status and are certainly capable of an upset.

The Junior Warriors golden run ended last night with their Broncos rivals coming from 12-0 down to win 32-12. The visitors attacked out wide in wave upon wave.

A bearded Patrick Ah Van, looking like a seventh former playing lunchtime league with the third formers, and Sonny Fai were back in action for the young Warriors. But even their enthused presence couldn't prevent the home side being overrun by four tries in the final 20 minutes.

- Herald on Sunday

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