Somehow, somewhere, the Warriors have misplaced their recipe for top quality football.
For the third game in a row they were untidy, well below the standards set earlier in the season.
They edged past a committed Tigers unit 30-22 on Saturday night, but were forced to make hard work of it, only confirming the win in the 76th minute, when Addin Fonua-Blake crashed over under the posts.
It was a difficult night, in front of a massive 25,118 crowd, not helped by the loss of Wayde Egan for almost 60 minutes, with the hooker later sent to hospital for observation after taking a nasty blow to the throat.
The result means the Warriors could seal their place in the playoffs tomorrow, if the Newcastle Knights fail to beat the Bulldogs, but they would have to improve considerably to make an impact in September
The Tigers have been better in recent weeks – pushing some good teams – and they have some class players. But they are anchored to the bottom of the table, have only banked three wins and had nothing to play for but pride.
But the Warriors couldn’t shrug off the Tigers for long periods and the overriding emotion at the end was relief, as they scored their first win in Hamilton from five attempts.
Before kickoff, there was a discernible buzz in the air. League fever was around the streets, with some vintage Balmain jerseys on display and plenty of Warriors paraphernalia. The Sydney team made a grand entrance, as Survivor’s 1982 hit Eye of the Tiger blared across the stadium speakers.
After an early warning shot – with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak pushed over the sideline – the Warriors went ahead in the eighth minute. It was straight out of their 2023 playbook, as Tohu Harris put Mitch Barnett in a gap on halfway, before Luke Metcalf loomed up to finish off.
When they extended their lead through an Adam Pompey try seven minutes later, as the centre hit a Johnson ball at full pace, it felt like the party was about to start. But the Warriors had been sloppy, with Barnett losing the ball from both kickoffs after tries – albeit hit by strong tackles – and they were punished the second time, with Daine Laurie flashing through to set up Starford To’a.
Remarkably, the Tigers were over again in the next set, with Laurie burning past Barnett on halfway, then flicking inside for Luke Brooks.
To give up a decent lead so quickly was an unfamiliar feeling for this Warriors team and the fans were a bit stunned.
Things got worse when Egan copped a stray elbow to the throat in the 23rd minute, replaced by Bayley Sironen. Despite early reports that he had passed his HIA, he was later sent to hospital.
The Warriors took a while to get going again, though Metcalf went close, caught offside after following up a Johnson grubber, before a trademark Watene-Zelezniak try. The winger flew horizontal across the turf to touch down in the corner, after smart work on the inside from Johnson and Taine Tuaupiki. But the Warriors were being pushed, almost trapped in their in-goal just before halftime.
The start to the second half continued a similar pattern, as passes went to ground and players were slightly out of position, even if Metcalf looked dangerous on the break. But they finally got their reward – after being camped in Tigers’ territory for an eternity, as Harris scored a captain’s try.
But the feeling that the gears were stuck continued, as balls went astray. That sentiment was confirmed with the Tigers’ third try, as they were opened up on halfway – with a simple play from the ruck – before the impressive Laurie finished off.
There were nervy moments, as Isaiah Papali’i crossed but was called back for a knock-on. The Warriors were in a fight, showed when they elected to take a 68th minute penalty shot, before Fonua-Blake’s big moment just before the final whistle.
The Tigers grabbed a controversial consolation try, as the short kickoff didn’t seem to cross the 10 metres, before To’a scored from long range.
Warriors 30 (Luke Metcalf, Adam Pompey, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Tohu Harris, Addin Fonua-Blake tries; Shaun Johnson con, pen, Pompey 3 cons)
Tigers 22 (Starford To’a 2, Luke Brooks, Daine Laurie try; Apisai Koroisau 3 cons)