NRL: Warriors' season on the brink

By Kris Shannon

Nathan Friend of the Warriors dives over the try line to score during the round 20 NRL match between the Warriors and the Newcastle Knights. Photo / Getty Images.
Nathan Friend of the Warriors dives over the try line to score during the round 20 NRL match between the Warriors and the Newcastle Knights. Photo / Getty Images.

Warriors 19
Knights 24

After 20 minutes of the Warriors' must-win match against Newcastle, they looked to be saving their season in style.

But, from there, the Knights controlled proceedings at Mt Smart Stadium, scoring four unanswered tries to win 24-19 and put a severe dent in the Warriors' finals hopes.

The Warriors were at their aggressive and attacking best in taking an early 18-0 lead, dominating their opposition in every aspect and showing the kind of form which took them to last year's grand final.

But that side soon disappeared, replaced by the nervy and error-prone outfit that has now lost 10 of 18 games this season.

With three straight matches - including two across the Tasman - against sides firmly ensconced in the top eight, the Warriors needed two points tonight to keep alive their stuttering season.

The Knights were a welcome sight as the home side attempted to achieve that outcome, with the Warriors unbeaten in five games against Newcastle.

But that run came to an inauspicious end and, perhaps with it, the Warriors' chances of playoff football. They probably need four wins from their last six - something, on tonight's evidence, that looks unlikely.

The Warriors were absolutely dominant in the opening quarter, and their supremacy soon showed on the scoreboard.

After they forced their first drop-out, the hosts capitalised when Feleti Mateo's fancy footwork provided Nathan Friend with clear passage to the line.

Shaun Johnson then doubled the lead in the 10th minute after receiving the ball on the 30m line, selling a dummy to slip through a hole and stepping around Darius Boyd for his ninth try of the season.

And, from another line drop-out, it was soon 18-0 as another Mateo assist gave Ben Matulino half a chance and the prop proved too strong close to the line.

The Warriors were flawless in possession and well-disciplined in defence for the first 20 minutes, and that was reflected in the statistics. The 84 tackles Newcastle made were more than double the Warriors' count, while the hosts had twice as many carries and metres gained than their opposition.

But the Knights finally enjoyed some possession in the Warriors' territory and soon reduced the deficit, with a simple cut-out pass seeing Akuila Uate sneak past Omar Slaimankhel on the right wing.

With time almost up in the half James Maloney banged over a drop goal, but Newcastle hit back as Kevin Naiqama showed his speed and squeezed down the left sideline to make it 19-12.

Wayne Bennett was probably the happier of the coaches at the break after his side's fightback, but his disposition would have worsened five minutes into the second spell when Uate bombed a certain try after fumbling his grounding.

But the winger soon made amends after his probing kick return eventually gave Timana Tahu enough space on the left to bring the Knights within a point.

If the first 20 minutes were the Warriors at their best, the antithesis of that was encapsulated in the play that gave Newcastle their first lead. After botching their last tackle play, Slaimankhel was guilty of pushing his luck in possession which allowed Dane Gagai to grab the ball and run 80 metres to score.

The Warriors had nothing more than half-chances to complete their own comeback attempt, taking none as their campaign potentially came to a close.

Warriors 19 (Friend, Johnson, Matulino tries; Maloney 3 cons, drop goal)
Knights 24 (Uate, Naiqama, Tahu, Gagai tries; Roberts 4 cons)

HT: 19-12

- APNZ

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