NRL: Warriors' playoff odds look grim

By Michael Brown

Saturday night's impressive defeat of Raiders only heightens disappointment as team.

Shaun Johnson scores one in a hat-trick of tries said to be the fastest in NRL history. Photo / Richard Robinson
Shaun Johnson scores one in a hat-trick of tries said to be the fastest in NRL history. Photo / Richard Robinson

Regrets? The Warriors will have a few.

Their playoff chances took a massive blow last night when the Cowboys beat the Sharks 31-18 and notched their fifth-consecutive win to take one giant leap closer to a spot in the finals.

That match was followed by the Titans upsetting the second placed Roosters 30-22 and suddenly the Warriors dropped from eighth to 10 in less than 60 minutes.

It has put the squeeze on the Warriors, who now need to beat the Dragons in Wollongong next Saturday and pray either the lowly Wests Tigers or Eels can beat the Cowboys or Knights. Pray because both the Tigers and Eels have looked ordinary all season. Even if either team perform a miracle a Titans win over the fourth placed Storm could also deny the Warriors a spot in the finals.

The Warriors are in danger of missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2006, when they went three straight years without reaching the playoffs, and will have only themselves to blame. People might point to the 62-6 defeat to Penrith as a lowpoint in the year but it actually kick-started a tremendous run of seven wins in eight games.

The real damage was done when they led six consecutive games heading into the final 10 minutes and won only two of them. And the insipid 18-14 loss to the Sharks at Mt Smart Stadium. And the tame 28-24 home defeat to the Panthers three weeks ago when they led 12-0 after 10 minutes and had the visitors on the ropes.

If they had won only a couple of those games they would have already qualified for the playoffs and be plotting a run deep into the competition.

Saturday night's impressive 50-16 defeat of the Raiders only heightens the disappointment. They were breathtaking at times, scoring some brilliant long-range tries and playing with a tempo and freedom most teams would have struggled to contain.

They were accurate (81 per cent completion rate), expansive (14 offloads and 10 linebreaks) and clinical (nine tries).

"If we miss out [on the playoffs], those little mistakes or close losses when we could have won will come into play and regrets will come," winger Manu Vatuvei said. "That's always the toughest thing. We just have to deal with it, move on and concentrate on next week."

They still have to beat the Dragons because there is still a chance, however slim, either the Tigers or Eels can pull off a miracle.

The Warriors have also got to do something they have never done before - beat the Dragons in Wollongong. St George-Illawarra have given the Warriors the most trouble of all sides in the competition, having won 15 of 19 games between the two sides, including the last seven and nine of the last 10.

"I don't know why we have struggled there," Warriors second-rower Feleti Mateo said. "Wollongong is a nice place and maybe people get distracted.

"They are still a dangerous team, especially with Josh Dugan there as he has provided a lot of spark. We have to be ready and focused."

Mateo was excellent off the bench on Saturday night, providing an immediate spark with a couple of offloads. One, during the leadup to Vatuvei's second try, was quite special in a spectacular try.

Shaun Johnson collected a second-half hat-trick which was said to be the fastest in NRL history (six-and-a-half minutes) but Vatuvei's hat-trick was even better. His came in a relatively tardy nine minutes and was an illustration of how damaging the giant winger can be.

His numbers made for impressive reading - 239m, eight tackle breaks, three offloads, three linebreaks - and he said afterwards he was playing for his family after the arrival of his third daughter last weekend (he missed the birth by three hours).

"My family always inspire me to play hard," he said. "I went out there and did my best."

The Warriors still need to do that next weekend.

Final round robin matches
Warriors at Dragons (15th) Sat 5pm
Titans at Storm (4th) Sat 7.30pm
Cowboys v Tigers (14th) Sat 9.30pm
Panthers at Sea Eagles (3rd) Sun 4pm
Knights v Eels (16th) Sun 5pm

- NZ Herald

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