Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL Nines: Warriors fall to Sea Eagles

Shaun Johnson in action against Manly Sea Eagles at the NRL Nines. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Shaun Johnson in action against Manly Sea Eagles at the NRL Nines. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Shaun's back. Roger's here. And the Warriors are still the kings of frustration.

That may be a bit unfair, but the Auckland team again showed their ability to come up with inexplicable performances on the big occasions.

Their 15-12 loss to Manly today in their second pool game - which leaves their Nines hopes on a knife edge tomorrow - was a disappointing display.

It means they need to beat the Broncos tomorrow afternoon to make the knock out stages, and face a tough task to finish top of their pool and gain the easier quarter-final opponent.

It's only a pre-season tournament, so results don't really matter, but the home crowd expected the Warriors to play to their potential. Instead they saw a bumbling display; at 12-4 the Warriors played like they were 30-4 up, and a string of errors gave the Sea Eagles too many opportunities, which the Sydney club eventually took.

Mistakes happen, but the nature of the display hinted at the fragility that has plagued the club for so many years.

Earlier the Warriors had demolished the Bulldogs 32-8, accelerating away after a nervous start. They looked good - especially down the left edge, where Tui Lolohea and Solomone Kata created havoc - but the over-sized Canterbury outfit visibly tired in the second half.

Shaun Johnson's return was the most positive aspect of the day. He produced a trademark sidestep against the Bulldogs to create one try and took a heavy tackle against Manly, which had parallels with the one that caused his injury last season, as his leg was trapped underneath the tacklers body. He was happy to come through.

"I was actually really, really nervous," admitted Johnson of his first outing. "I didn't expect it to be like that but I was out there and still a little on edge but I got through it, made a few tackles, ran the ball a little."

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The North Queensland Cowboys, who have the experience of winning the 2014 tournament, might be the team to beat today. With 13 of their Grand Final 17, returning legend Matt Bowen (who had some brilliant touches) and speedster Gideon Mosby they looked the best all round outfit yesterday.

Penrith and Cronulla were also impressive while the Storm showed more than they have in recent years with two wins. The defending champion Rabbitohs aren't yet assured of a place in the last eight - they'll need to beat the Eels to progress tomorrow - but will be another team to watch.

Today there was also the usual mix of magic and mayhem, that only the abbreviated format can provide.

The first play of the 2016 tournament was quite spectacular, as Bryson Goodwin sliced through the Roosters defence from the kickoff, eventually dragged down thirty metres from the try line. Soon afterwards Alex Johnston crossed, for the first try of the day.

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The crowd was also treated to the unusual sight of Bulldogs enforcer Greg Eastwood playing at first receiver, while Manly scored a try with just three seconds on the clock to defeat the Rabbitohs.

At one stage the Cowboys were playing touch football behind their own goal line, with two offloads under pressure while prop James Tamou was throwing 20 metre passes a halfback would be proud of.

Roosters youngster Latrell Mitchell - who Braith Anasta labelled a "freakish talent...he can do anything" - came up with one of the plays of the day, an outrageous behind the back offload that fooled three Parramatta defenders to create a try.

- NZ Herald

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