League: Warriors take hard road to finals

By Steve Deane

Konrad Hurrell blows a kiss after scoring a try in the corner against the North Queensland Cowboys. Photo / AP.
Konrad Hurrell blows a kiss after scoring a try in the corner against the North Queensland Cowboys. Photo / AP.

Nothing has come easy for the Warriors this year. The way 2012 has panned out, it would be fitting if they didn't confirm their finals spot until the final day of the season.

But after the number of opportunities they've passed up, some might argue it would be more fitting if last year's grand finalists didn't get a spot at all.

That is certainly a possibility, although, on form, the Warriors look good enough to sneak into the eight.

Forget Broncos coach Anthony Griffin's recent assessment of the Warriors as a top two or three side masquerading as a mid-table struggler. That was mere pre-match flattery. The Warriors are right where they deserve to be.

Had they taken their chances and banked points against the Sea Eagles, Tigers, Sharks and Broncos, they would be equal first on the NRL ladder. But even a die-hard fan would struggle to keep a straight face while suggesting that is a place they deserve to occupy.

The Warriors have been the architects of their own misfortune. Bad bounces or bad calls haven't cost them vital victories, rather they have paid the price for bad play at crucial times and a persistent inability to stop opponents getting on a roll.

That frequently fatal trait was evident as early as the first 20 minutes of the season against the Manly, when the reigning premiers stormed to a 16-0 lead.

The Warriors closed to within two points late in the match and camped on Manly's line looking for the winner, but the early damage proved too much to repair.

Close but not close enough has been the theme of this campaign. That was the story against the Tigers in round nine, the Sharks in round 15 and the Broncos last week. The total margin of defeat in those matches was five points - less than the number of competition points dropped.

It would be wrong to describe the Warriors as dreadful this season. They've been quite good most of the time. They just haven't been good enough, enough of the time.

Last week they came within a couple of errant goal kicks and a great defensive play by Josh Hoffman of sweeping the three Queensland teams in successive weeks.

That would have been some feat, and would have put the campaign right back on track.

Instead the club is still scuffling, still trying to find a groove, still struggling to subdue opponents despite playing well enough to chalk up the victories.

They can't afford to look past tomorrow's match against the resurgent Knights. If they trip up in a home banker, they're as good as done.

But if they do manage to subdue Wayne Bennett's erratic side in the only meeting between the clubs this year, it is the block of three matches that follow against fellow playoff contenders that will then determine their finals fate.

Between rounds 21 and 23 the Warriors face fellow contenders Manly, Cronulla and North Queensland. They must travel to Perth for the Manly match and Townsville to face the Cowboys. It's a brutal stretch. But if the Warriors can cobble together a couple of wins, things then get a little easier, as all three matches in the run home are winnable.

The conventional wisdom is that no team outside the top four will be able to mount a serious title charge under the revised finals system. That may prove correct. Right now, the Warriors would be happy enough just to get a chance to test the theory.

- NZ Herald

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