Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors' season ends with whimper

The season is over for the Warriors, after an awful 19-10 loss to the Dragons today. Photo / Getty
The season is over for the Warriors, after an awful 19-10 loss to the Dragons today. Photo / Getty

Dragons 19
Warriors 10

The season is over for the Warriors, after an awful 19-10 loss to the Dragons today.
Despite having their season on the line, the Warriors looked poor from the outset and the Dragons were the better side for most of the match.

The Auckland side had some chances in the dying stages - notably from a Manu Vatuvei break - but didn't deserve the victory and a 79th minute try to the home side sealed their fate.

It was a strange match. The first half was full of mistakes (the Warriors made seven errors and 14 missed tackles) but the Dragons, who were coming off six successive losses and had only won one of their last ten games, seemed to want it more.

They were farewelling Nathan Fien (276 NRL games) and Michael Weyman among others but the Warriors, with their finals hopes on a tightrope surely had much more to play for

It didn't look like it in the first 40 minutes; there was no great hunger, no desperation to at least put themselves in the frame for the eight; instead the Warriors were playing like a side that thought they were going to win just by turning up, without doing the hard work required to subdue the opposition. They didn't establish any territorial dominance, conceded 14 tackle busts to two and couldn't find an offload.

They was too little urgency, too much anxiety. Elijah Taylor scored a try in the 17th minute, after a fortunate bounce off Vatuvei's shoulder from a Thomas Leuluai bomb, but they wasn't many more highlights in the first half.

The Dragons looked more dangerous - and scored one of the tries of their season - with a break from deep inside their own half, prompted by Friend and finished by Adam Quinlan. Only some desperate defence prevented one or two more, and only some comic moments provided entertainment in the scrappy first half.

Taylor took one of the best over the shoulders catches by league player since Paul 'Fatty' Vautin's memorable effort at the Gabba in 1993, while Vatuvei seemed to wait for a pass from the invisible man, before sliding in to retrieve the ball when he realises there was no one at dummy half.

The intensity lifted in the second half but there was still a lack of direction. Shaun Johnson was rarely sighted in attack in the first 70 minutes and Hurrell didn't receive the ball in space in the first hour. When they did have chances there were invariably mistakes, little frustrating errors that stop momentum or see a hole close.

Nathan Friend was one standout. Apart from his usual non-stop work, Friend suddenly revealed a kicking game that hasn't existed until the latter stages of this season. Two clever grubbers created repeat sets before a towering cross field bomb - surely the first of his career - was plucked out of the air by Vatuvei to tie the game up in the 64th minute. That was as close as the Warriors came.

In a game where both teams struggled to find space, it was no surprise that Kevin Locke attempted a 45 metre field goal in the 71st minute. A Dragons attempt two minutes later - by Josh Drinkwater - was a wobblier effort - but went over to put the Dragons back in front.

A Chase Stanley penalty extended the margin to three points before Charly Runciman's late try.

Dragons 19 (S.Quinlan, N. Green, C. Runciman tries, C. Stanley 2 goals, J. Drinkwater field goal)
Warriors 10 (E. Taylor, M.Vatuvei tries, S. Johnson goal)
Halftime: 6-4

- Herald on Sunday

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