Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Shock results lead to Warriors exit

Kevin Gordon of the Titans breaches the Warriors' tryline. Photo / Getty Images
Kevin Gordon of the Titans breaches the Warriors' tryline. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors have been ousted from the NRL finals series following their sixth-straight loss to the Titans.

A pungent smell of 'what-might-have-been' lingered in the dressing room on Friday night as Ivan Cleary's team put themselves at the mercy of others to make the second week of the finals.

That turned to a shocking reality just after midnight last night when the seventh-ranked Canberra defeated Penrith 24-22 after sixth-placed Sydney had defeated Wests Tigers 19-15 in a thrilling contest earlier in the evening.

The result was probably fair, given the Warriors had beaten just two of the other top eight sides this season. In contrast, the Titans are on a roll with seven wins from their last eight starts.

The McIntyre system can be a cruel master. The team to join the Warriors in the exit queue will be decided by today's match between Manly and St George-Illawarra. If Manly lose, they are gone. If they win, the Tigers will be marched - the first time a side in the top four has dropped out in the first week.

Cleary says the uncertainty was hard to deal with. "Regardless of results, we still had to prepare not knowing the outcome," he said.

Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah was quick to back his coach by questioning the system.

"There is no issue where the two highest-ranked losers get another opportunity, but there is a lot of uncertainty whether you are in or not [which can affect logistics].

"Compare that to the AFL system where the draw is guaranteed and you can plan better. However, it does create excitement through the weekend and ensures the last game is still live."

The Australian Rules' finals system still has eight teams but the winner of 5 vs 8 plays away at the loser of 1 vs 4. The same applies to the winner of 6 vs 7 and loser of 2 vs 3. The two top-four winners get a second week bye, the two bottom-four losers are out. The NRL only boots the bottom two losers, meaning teams as high as 3 and 4 can be dismissed.

Compounding the Warriors' woe was that the team made too many errors against the Titans through missed tackles and forced offloads. That made it a struggle when combined with some tough refereeing calls and a Titans side determined to make up for the finals disappointment of last year.

"We started well but lost our way," Cleary said of the fact they trailed 22-6 at halftime after leading 6-0. "We pushed things too much. Finals pressure hurt us. They got a lot of possession in that first half and were accurate with it. We could've got back into the contest but were flustered."

It comes after a month when the Warriors had conceded the least points of any NRL team (45). The Titans unlocked their defence and tested the Warriors' patience, often with mesmerising moves where a receiver would go tantalisingly close to the defensive line before issuing a pass.

"We just got a bit rattled," said finals football veteran Brent Tate.

"Probably just a few errors cost us. They have some big-game players and we got scattered for a 15-minute period in the first half. I thought we got back to our game plan and were in it again in the second half."

Some 50:50 refereeing calls, most involving stripping the ball, were another sore point.

"I thought there were a couple of close calls," Cleary said. "But that's what we get, consistent losses in the penalty count. However, our own basic errors cost us the game.

"It seemed every time there was a dropped ball in the play-the-ball it was either a penalty against us or their ball," Tate said. "I don't think we were that bad all night."

Trouble is, they won't get a chance to show improvements. After entering the playoffs full of confidence, they are now full of disappointment. The season is over.

Meanwhile, Jerome Ropati's shoulder injury should not prevent him playing in the Four Nations. An MRI scan has shown a tear in one of his rotator cuff muscles. He is likely to require two weeks to get right.

- Herald on Sunday

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