NRL: Warriors' playoffs hopes take hit

By Michael Brown

Titans 28 Warriors 12

This was supposed to be the match that confirmed the Warriors would make a charge to the playoffs.

It happened 12 months ago, when they beat an injury-ravaged Titans side on top of the table and then went on a run of eight wins in their last 10 games to sneak into the top eight and ultimately finish just one game short of the grand final.

The symmetry was uncanny. The Warriors were again desperate after another poor start to a season and the Titans are once again top of the table and facing a wretched injury toll with the likes of Luke Bailey, Mat Rogers, Ashley Harrison and Mark Minichiello out.

Gold Coast should have been ripe for the picking. Instead, the Warriors' season is nastily poised over a precipice.

They are only three points off a playoff position but that is inflated by the fact they have already had their two byes. They have won only five games all season and Friday's trip to the Broncos looms as a must-win if they are to salvage a season which had started with so much promise.

They are staying in Queensland to prepare for the match and coach Ivan Cleary has a massive job on his hands to turn things around.

There was plenty of perspiration last night but not much inspiration. They made plenty of ground on the back of a high number of offloads (21-8) and had plenty of possession (52 per cent) but, like all season, struggled when in the opposition's red zone.

They seem bereft of ideas when the tryline beckons, save for the predictable bomb to Manu Vatuvei's wing and often their movement was lateral. They produced one nice move from a scrum which resulted in a try to Lance Hohaia and found more joy in the final half hour as the game lost its shape but by then it was too late.

They weren't helped by some dodgy officiating, which benefited the home side, and also conceded two long-range intercept tries when close to the Titans' line but it wasn't the difference in the match.

Rugby league is a game of pressure and the only pressure the Warriors build is that on themselves. Too often their ball control was lamentable, often on first tackle or going for the line, and it made life easy for the home side.

They were also exposed by a quick and intelligent side who revel in playing at home, given their record at Skilled Park in 2009 now stands at 7-0.

Halfback Scott Prince was the master tactician who seems to have so much time and space and he was ably backed up by hooker Nathan Friend whose sleight of hand was impressive.

The Titans led 16-2 at the break, on the back of three tries scored after long-range breaks, and maintained a handy buffer throughout.

The Warriors had gone into the match having conceded just 18 points in their last three matches but they couldn't cope with the Titans' mobility and enthusiasm.

They opened the scoring in the 16th minute through a Kevin Locke penalty but momentum swung to the Titans who racked up tries to Anthony Laffranchi, Kevin Gordon and David Mead.

Locke was once again the pick of the Warriors, highlighted by three incredible try-saving tackles when he used his blistering pace to mow down the opposition.

Locke has looked at home since being given his NRL debut four games ago and it would be interesting to see what he could do if he was actually played in his regular position of fullback. Second-rower Lewis Brown scored a late consolation but it did little more than add some respectability to the scoreline.

The Warriors have been skilled at reviving seasons when all seems lost but they might have just used up their last resuscitation breath.

Titans 28 (D. Mead 2, K. Gordon 2, A. Laffranchi tries S. Prince 4 gls) Warriors 12 (L. Hohaia, L. Brown tries, K. Locke 2 gls). Halftime: 16-2.

- Herald on Sunday

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