NRL: Warriors inch closer to playoffs

By Michael Brown

Feleti Mateo on the charge for the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images
Feleti Mateo on the charge for the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images

WARRIORS 30
STORM 22

A spot in the top eight continues to elude the Warriors, even though they have won seven of their last eight games, but they are getting closer with each week and it won't be going unnoticed across the Tasman.

Today they downed the defending champions Melbourne 30-22 which lifted them to ninth on the ladder but their early season form continues to act as something of a handbrake.

They are fighting desperately hard to make a move and there will be few teams keen to tackle them over the coming weeks and even fewer who will want to come across them if they make the playoffs. Momentum is a powerful commodity towards the end of the season and the Warriors are building nicely.

"I think the message is already there,'' Warriors assistant Andrew McFadden said. "When this team plays its best footy, it's hard to stop. But we are still not there. We still have another six rounds to go and we are by no means in the finals.

But I think if we get there, most teams will be looking over their shoulders.''

The problem is, one loss can prove damaging to the Warriors as 11 teams jostle for eight spots and Saturday's home game against Cronulla looms as yet-another big one. With a points differential of minus-63 (almost the amount they got beaten by Penrith), the only thing to do is keep winning and particularly at Mt Smart Stadium where they have lost only once all season.

Today's result was one that could have gone either way. The Warriors played well, particularly in the first half as they built an 18-4 lead, but they came under tremendous pressure from the Storm in the second spell and it was only a combination of poor Storm option-taking and tenacious Warriors defence that got them home.

There were so many big moments in the match and many of them involved the big players - Billy Slater dropping a high ball under no pressure with the clock ticking down, Cameron Smith hitting the upright with a relatively easy penalty attempt which would have levelled the scores 18-18, Shaun Johnson being cut down by Will Chambers 2m short of the tryline after a now-trademark breakaway which would have given the Warriors a healthy 22-4 lead and Melbourne bombing at least four tries.

The Warriors were always in the lead but it was only when fullback Kevin Locke soared to collect a Johnson chip with two minutes remaining to the delight of the 20,126-strong crowd that they felt comfortable.

"I think it's a game we could have [won] but I'm not sure we should have,'' Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said. "The Warriors played really well. Their first half was outstanding. We had plenty of chances to win but we couldn't quite hit the front. I think if we had hit the front we might have been able to hang on.''

They nearly did through some slick set plays and by relentlessly attacking the Warriors' right edge, which has been a weakness all season. It's something that needs to improve _ Dominique Peyroux stiffened things when he came on midway through the second half _ and there's only so much Simon Mannering can do to cover Shaun Johnson and Konrad Hurrell.

Mannering made one brilliant try-saving tackle on Ryan Hoffman, who lost the ball offloading close to the line, in another excellent shift and he was well backed up by the ever-improving Thomas Leuluai and Locke.

The Warriors are taking a one-week-at-a-time approach but it must be hard not to look too far ahead. It has shades of 2008 and 2011 and they ended up pretty well.

Warriors 30 (Ngani Laumape 2, Thomas Leuluai. Konrad Hurrell, Kevin Locke tries; Shaun Johnson 5 gls) Storm 22 (Justin O'Neill, Billy Slater, Maurice Blair, Cooper Cronk tries; Cameron Smith 3 gls). HT: 18-4.

- APNZ

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