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

NRL Nines: Warriors fail at final hurdle

NZ Warriors Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Johnson and Ryan Hoffman after losing the final against the Parramatta Eels, during the Final, at the 2016 Nines. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
NZ Warriors Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Johnson and Ryan Hoffman after losing the final against the Parramatta Eels, during the Final, at the 2016 Nines. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

The Warriors still have a way to go.

Reaching the final at the Auckland Nines is a meritorious performance but the way they crumbled to lose 22-4 in the decider against Parramatta will leave a few question marks.

Sure, it's only a pre-season tournament but it was still a big occasion that demanded a top drawer performance.

Instead we got a mistake riddled display, eerily reminiscent of the 1988 World Cup final, when the Kiwis slumped badly in front of expectant crowd at Eden Park.

Winning the Nines - or even playing their part in a thriller in front of more than 33,000 fans - would have been a massive, intangible boost ahead of the NRL season. Instead we saw an anti-climax.

The Warriors were never in the match, despite having a lineup with considerably more star power and experience than the Eels. From the moment they let the kickoff bounce - always a cardinal sin in league - and Parramatta scored under the posts for a 7-0 lead with 30 seconds on the clock, there was an ominous feeling about the match.

It was downhill from there, as mistakes curtailed any chance of a comeback, despite a Roger Tuivasa-Sheck try giving a glimmer of hope just before halftime. Parramatta were relentless, never giving the Warriors - or the home support - a chance to make an impact on the match.

"We won the game on the back of our defence," said Eels coach Brad Arthur, celebrating their first significant trophy in more than a decade.

"We got a bit lucky early with the bounce of the ball but to their credit the boys aimed up."

Warriors captain Shaun Johnson was philosophical about the result.

"We had a chance, we put ourselves in a position but we just didn't have it," said Johnson.

"They started hot and we couldn't go with them. It's small margins. A couple of opportunist tries and when you are on your last legs on the second day it's hard to claw those back."

But the Warriors - who have incredible expectation on them across the weekend - deserve credit for making the final and some of their younger players caught the eye, particularly Nathaniel Roache. Tui Lolohea also looked sharp and probably needed to see more of the ball.

"It's been a big week, we had a lot of expectation on us," said coach Andrew McFadden.

"The big effort was getting [to the final] and they applied themselves terrifically."

Beyond the ultimate result, for most Warriors fans the main focus was on Johnson. Would he come through the weekend unscathed? Would he have the same impact after so many months away?

He suffered a corked thigh in the final but was otherwise physically fine. And Johnson showed he has still got it, especially with his houdini play against the Broncos in their final pool game. On the last tackle, with the Warriors 70 seconds from being eliminated from the tournament, Johnson sidestepped past three defenders to seal their passage to the last eight.

After that escape, the Warriors played with more freedom, eliminating the Raiders 16-8 in a physical encounter, The semi-final was their most impressive display of the event, a clinical 22-4 victory over the Gold Coast Titans.

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