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

NRL: Finals football unlikely for Mt Smart again

Manu Vatuvei of the Warriors dives to score a try during the round 20 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the New Zealand Warriors at GIO Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.
Manu Vatuvei of the Warriors dives to score a try during the round 20 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the New Zealand Warriors at GIO Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.

It feels like Warriors fans can forget about seeing a playoff match in Auckland this season.

Yesterday's 26-22 golden point loss to Canberra has surely ended Warriors' hopes of a top six finish, which illustrates the fine margins in the NRL.

The Warriors (20 points) are seven points adrift of the fourth-placed Raiders, and have much ground to make up on the Bulldogs (fifth on 26) and the Broncos (sixth on 24).

It's a shame, as the Warriors - who haven't had a home finals match since 2007 - would back themselves against almost anyone at Mt Smart when they hit their stride.

But now they face a battle just to make the playoffs, needing to win all of their four remaining home games and ideally pick up at least one victory across the Tasman.

Yesterday's game was the usual mix of sweet and sour.

The Warriors are one of the form teams in the competition when their minds are on the job, but lapses continue to be costly.

They were the better side for most of the first half yesterday, but gave up two late tries to undo that good work. Untidy play marred the first 20 minutes after halftime, before a champagne finish came oh-so-close to an unlikely two points.

"The good thing about us is we're fighting hard," said Warriors coach Andrew McFadden.

"I thought we played pretty average for most of it, but we strung a really good patch of footy together right at the end which gave us a chance. It's a harsh lesson to learn but that's where we are as a group at the moment."

After the controversy of last week, Tui Lolohea came on early in the second half and showed why so many couldn't understand his recent absences. Sure, he had a couple of impetuous moments, but he made things happen and was a constant threat with ball in hand.

The 21-year-old added the width and pace missing in the first half, helping to stretch Canberra's defensive line, and played a big part in the late comeback.

Under considerable pressure, Lolohea proved his point yesterday and should have less bench time for the rest of the season. Vatuvei's likely absence next week - the veteran winger scored his 150th try yesterday before limping off in the second half with a knee injury - might open the door for Lolohea to start next week.

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 22 Feb 2017 01:42:48 Processing Time: 265ms