NRL: Warriors blow it at Eden Park

By Steve Deane

Manu Vatuvei celebrates his try against the Manly Sea Eagles at Eden Park. Photo / Richard Robinson
Manu Vatuvei celebrates his try against the Manly Sea Eagles at Eden Park. Photo / Richard Robinson

New season, new coach, new players - an all-too-familiar meltdown under pressure.

A lack of composure at key moments killed the Warriors in their season-opener against Manly at Eden Park yesterday. They started badly, recovered well thanks mainly to some nifty play from Shaun Johnson, and then popped their own party balloon in front of bumper crowd at a venue that shows no signs of letting up on the 13-man code.

Most of the Warriors' wounds were self-inflicted - an ankle sprain that could keep Jerome Ropati out for up to six weeks aside, the damage suffered by the youthful Warriors will be mainly superficial, bruised egos rather than bones.

Emerging talents Elijah Taylor and Ben Henry will be feeling the bulk of the anguish. Making his debut at centre, Henry was brutally exposed by Steve Matai, with the veteran Kiwi ghosting past the debutant for a try direct from a scrum. Taylor, who otherwise had a fine game filling in for Micheal Luck at lock, dropped a pass when tryline-bound in the first half and threw an injudicious pass that turned over possession on the first tackle at a vital stage late in the second.

On such plays close games turn.

The Warriors were trailing by two points and storming home against 12 men after Matt Ballin's sin-binning when Taylor forced the issue. Manly skipper Jamie Lyon picked up the loose ball and ran 60m and, although Kevin Locke gunned him down just short of the line, Glenn Stewart pounced on a last-tackle grubber to turn a precarious two-point lead into six. The Warriors never recovered.

"That probably did cost them in the end," Lyon said.

Warriors coach Brian McClennan was less keen to boil the match down to a few key moments, particularly Taylor's rush of blood.

"I can understand that people will look at that point but I certainly won't hang on to that one too much because there were loads of times we coughed the ball up on play one and two," McClennan said. "Who's to say that they couldn't have been turning points? And I thought Elijah did an excellent job for us. He was very busy."

There will certainly be chuntering about the absence of last year's finals hero Krisnan Inu, however McClennan stoutly defended his decision to reward Henry for an industrious pre-season.

"What I say to that is I picked on form through trainings and trials and I am pleased with how those young boys [went]," he said. "To bring it down to one incident of Ben being stepped by Steve Matai is kind of ridiculous. [Matai] has done that to a few players over the years.

"Konrad Hurrell and Ben Henry had good debuts and I am really pleased for them. They have got good futures and I can tell you right now that is the future of our club. We are going to keep giving chances to our young ones if they are players who are deemed to have worked very hard at training and are on form. We will keep rewarding people who are giving efforts."

Effort wasn't an issue - the 19 errors the side coughed up were. Even with such lamentable ball control and having shipped 16 early points without response, the Warriors still could have won it. That will provide some encouragement, while there were some towering individual displays, none better than that of captain Simon Mannering. The hulking Sione Lousi also played himself into the ground, while Johnson produced some sparkling plays to go with an occasional miscue.

It may not have been the triumphant campaign start many were hoping for, but neither was the defeat a disaster.

"We have got a lot of growing to do," McClennan said. "We played with about 60 per cent ball control and you are not going to win many footy games playing like that - particularly against a club that has been in three of the last five grand finals. It is going to be a long journey. It was a bit of a down but some ups will come soon."

- NZ Herald

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