NRL: Warriors' season on the brink

By Kris Shannon

Warriors coach Brian McClennan. Photo / Getty Images.
Warriors coach Brian McClennan. Photo / Getty Images.

The Warriors probably won't make the playoffs but the fact might be both merciful and somewhat irrelevant - that venture wouldn't last long anyway.

After somehow squandering an 18-0 lead and possibly the best 20 minutes they've played all season in their loss to Newcastle on Saturday night, the Warriors' quest for finals finals is now mission improbable.

Their current position of ninth may not seem particularly perilous, but the Warriors will need at least four wins from their last six games to stand a chance - something which, on the evidence of the 24-19 defeat to the Knights, looks unlikely to say the least.

Facing top eight sides in their next three fixtures should prove too tough a test for the team, though if they do manage to upset either Manly, Cronulla or North Queensland, the final three games appear winnable on paper.

But the same would have been said before last night's match. The Warriors had suffered only two defeats in their last dozen games against the Knights, including a run of five straight victories.

They had also won 10 of their last 12 at Mt Smart Stadium and, aside from a round six loss to Canberra, they've experienced few difficulties against teams in the bottom half of the table this season.

Their supposed superiority was exemplified early, with tries from Nathan Friend, Shaun Johnson and Ben Matulino providing a comfortable 18-0 lead after 16 minutes.

But then it all fell apart. The incisive attacking play which saw them threatening to run up a cricket score disappeared, replaced by an indecisive and error-prone outfit that managed only James Maloney's field goal for the remainder of the match.

The Warriors have struggled defensively all season and that once again came to the fore as the Knights ran in four tries and had a further three disallowed by the video referee.

If the first quarter of the match suggested the side could make a deep playoff run, the last three indicated the Warriors would be one-and-done even if they did manage to recover from the mental blow and sneaked into the eight.

"We've got our backs against the wall a bit now," Brian McClennan admitted. "Every lost opportunity of getting two points makes it harder."

The 2012 campaign has been a story of lost opportunities, with several leads blown as the players have shown an inability to maintain focus for the full 80 minutes.

An opposition knows they are never beaten when facing this season's Warriors, rather just one shift in momentum away from completely changing the game.

Johnson cut a frustrated figure after last night's encounter but he was adamant his side could still be a factor in the playoff equation.

"Of course we can. It's nothing to do with belief or anything like that. We've got all the confidence in the world in what we've got going on. Tonight was a set-back but we've just got to learn a valuable lesson and move on.

"I think [the task is] pretty massive now. We've really got to work hard, we've got to recover well and focus on getting over to Perth and doing the job over there."

Taking on Manly away from the friendly confines of Brookvale Oval can only bode well, as does the Sea Eagles' indifferent recent form of their own.

Manu Vatuvei should return from the hamstring niggle which kept him out of last night's match, important considering Omar Slaimankhel appears out of his depth at first grade level.

The Warriors do face a nervous wait over the fitness of Simon Mannering, though, with the skipper's unspecified leg injury requiring a scan.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 18 Apr 2014 21:05:29 Processing Time: 559ms