NRL: Warriors on the brink after another loss

By Michael Brown

Mose Masoe of the Panthers fends off Elijah Taylor of the Warriors during the round 23 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers. Photo / Getty Images.
Mose Masoe of the Panthers fends off Elijah Taylor of the Warriors during the round 23 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers. Photo / Getty Images.

Warriors 24
Panthers 28

What seemed almost inevitable three weeks has suddenly become almost impossible.

The Warriors' season is slipping away and they don't seem to be doing enough to arrest the slide.

Quite unbelievably, given their season is on the line, the Warriors are playing with an alarming lack of intensity. It was missing against Cronulla and Manly and was absent again today against a Penrith side who embarrassed them 62-6 in May.

It didn't help that they lost centre Dane Nielsen to a suspected fractured ankle inside the opening 10 minutes, which put pressure on the interchange bench, but it wasn't the reason they crashed to their third-straight loss.

"We just didn't play with enough intensity,'' coach Matt Elliott conceded. "Unfortunately, that's been a bit of a feature of our last few games.''

Unfortunately, it means they now need to win their three remaining games against the Titans, Raiders and Dragons and hope other results go their way to have any hope of making the top eight.

They somehow need to find the formula that saw them win seven out of eight and had sides on the other side of the Tasman wearily looking in their direction. They had the sort of momentum that can take teams to grand finals but that has disappeared.

It would help if they defended with the same sort of passion and energy they did in the middle of the season, if they threw more options into their attack and final plays and if key players like Kevin Locke, Shaun Johnson and Feleti Mateo offered some more help to Thomas Leuluai.

They were the same players who helped spark the remarkable turnaround three months ago but have been quiet in recent weeks.

It looked like the Warriors would canter to a confidence-boosting win when they raced out to a 12-0 lead inside 10 minutes after tries to Leuluai and Elijah Taylor against a side who had lost their last four games by a combined margin of 148-32. But then they let the foot off the throat and Penrith accepted the invitation back into the game.

The Panthers enjoyed a mountain of possession in the second quarter - they had the ball for 17 out of 20 sets - as they forced repeat sets or earned penalties and it helped them to a 16-12 halftime lead.

"Momentum is going to swing and when it does you have to try to fight against it and we didn't,'' captain Simon Mannering said. "They had a lot of the ball in the back end of the first half and into the second half and we didn't do ourselves any favours.''

It was a lead the visitors never relinquished, although the Warriors threatened to snatch a dramatic victory after Konrad Hurrell scored to close to within four in the final eight minutes as they finally found some urgency. It was, however, too little, too late.

"I'm not ashamed to tell you that I'm bitterly disappointed at the moment,'' Elliott said. "I think today is the day to savour the disappointment. I don't want to get into a poor-me thing, it's not like that at all, but I would be lying if I told you I feel OK with what we did today.''

It's said desperate times call for desperate measures. It would help if the Warriors just showed some desperation.

Warriors 24 (Thomas Leuluai, Elijah Taylor, Suaia Matagi, Konrad Hurrell tries; Shaun Johnson 4 gls) Panthers 28 (David Simmons 2, Josh Mansour 2, Sika Manu tries; Luke Walsh 4 gls). HT: 12-16.

- APNZ

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