NRL: Halves out to avenge Tigers' mauling

By Steve Deane

Shaun Johnson is happy enough with his own form and the way his partnership with James Maloney is developing. Photo / Richard Robinson
Shaun Johnson is happy enough with his own form and the way his partnership with James Maloney is developing. Photo / Richard Robinson

"The Warriors are like a big bear with huge claws that has no idea how to kill the rabbit."

That line, courtesy of an observer via Twitter, was a pretty accurate description of the Warriors' first-half efforts against the Tigers a fortnight ago.

Physically superior across the board, the Warriors smashed the Tigers to pieces in the opening exchanges. They rolled downfield, opening the scoring with a wonderfully worked, superbly executed try in the corner to Bill Tupou.

Then things began to unravel. The physical and territorial dominance remained, the ability to do much with it disappeared. The claws never found their mark. Having clung to life, the Tigers showed they were no mere helpless bunnies, turning the tables in the second half to inflict a painful, damaging defeat on a Warriors campaign that had been building some nice momentum.

Coach Brian McClennan described as naive the team's failure to put more points on the Tigers in the first half (they did score again through Ben Henry but led only 10-0 at halftime), but he declined to lay the blame at the feet of the players whose job it is to capitalise on the platform laid by the team's hit-up merchants - halves Shaun Johnson and James Maloney.

McClennan pointed out that despite being forced to bed in a new hooker and operate with a different fullback virtually every week, Johnson and Maloney had churned out the try assists. The Warriors are in fact the only club where both halves feature in the top 10 in that statistical category, with Johnson creating 10 tries and Maloney nine.

"They are doing a fair job and they are getting better," is McClennan's assessment of his halves.

Maloney agrees with him.

"The best is still to come," said the chirpy Australian, who admitted the changes at hooker and fullback this season had hampered the team's fluidity.

"Mate, it does. We have had a few injuries across the board and it is unsettling, especially in that spine that is handling the ball so much and working together so often."

Johnson doesn't agree with the view that the team lost their way the longer the Tigers match went on. They may have fluffed a couple of chances in the first half, but in the second half the Tigers played a near-perfect game, completing all 20 sets.

"Whoever does that will win the game, it's pretty simple," Johnson said.

"I don't think it was a case of us playing poorly. At times we made some wrong decisions with the ball and forced our hand too much at key times but, to the Tigers' credit, they outplayed us in that second half."

Johnson is also happy enough with his own form and the way his partnership with Maloney is developing.

"I probably didn't start the first three or four games the way I wanted to but since then I've been playing some good footy. The back half of the first half of the season, I've been pretty happy with how I've played.

"Me and Jimmy are still working on our combo and learning each other's game but over the last month or so we have really started to click as a team and me and Jimmy have been feeling pretty good."

The roookie star's game is continuing to flourish, however against the Tigers Johnson was forced to bow to the master, with Benji Marshall controlling the second half with a pinpoint kicking game that ultimately decided the contest. Being forced into a bit-part role as Marshall dominated proceedings was frustrating, Johnson said.

"Look, I am always learning. Every game I watch, every game I play in, every player I come up against I am always learning. That's all you can do in a game like that - learn so that next time something like that rolls around we are the team doing that to a side."

Doing just that against the Storm and getting the two points tomorrow would go a long way to erasing the pain of the Tigers defeat. To do that, the bear will have to find the mark with its claws.

Warriors: Glen Fisiiahi, Bill Tupou, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, James Maloney,
Shaun Johnson, Russell Packer, Alehana Mara, Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor,
Simon Mannering, Feleti Mateo.

Lewis Brown, Sam Rapira, Sione Lousi, Jacob Lillyman.


Storm: B. Slater, Matt Duffie, Dane Nielsen, Will Chambers, Justin O'Neill, Gareth Widdop,
Cooper Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Jason Ryles, Ryan Hinchcliffe,
Ryan Hoffman, Todd Lowrie.

Anthony Quinn, Rory Kostjasyn, J. Lowe.

- NZ Herald

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