New Zealand Warriors 10
Melbourne Storm 32
The Warriors are back in a rut, after a 32-10 loss to the Storm on Saturday.
The mid-season revival is just a memory now, after their second successive defeat, leaving them at long odds to make the top eight.
The Storm were clinical, classy and combative, coming back from a 10-2 deficit just before halftime to score five unanswered tries.
The Warriors had their moments – and competed well at times – but when the Storm lifted a gear, they couldn't stay with them.
Losing to the top of the table Storm is no disgrace, but the way the Warriors fell away in the second half is a major concern.
The visitors had four players backing up from Origin, but dominated the home side, who were coming off a bye.
Cameron Smith gave an exhibition in his 396th NRL game, and the 35-year-old was probably the best player on the field, as he dictated superbly from dummy half.
In contrast, the Warriors lacked a controlling influence – and just like against the Broncos two weeks ago – didn't have the necessary spark or invention on attack. They scored two nice tries in the first 20 minutes, but were toothless after that.
The nadir came in a five minute period midway through the second half. The Storm conceded six successive penalties inside their 20 metre zone, and had a player sinbinned, but the Warriors didn't look finding a way through.
Gerard Beale was a late change for the Warriors, coming in for the injured Patrick Herbert, but the former Kiwis centre struggled in his return to first grade.
The Warriors made a messy start – and the fans who had braved a wintry Auckland evening wondered if it was going to be one of those matches.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Peta Hiku ran into each other when attempting to field a Melbourne goal line drop out, then later Kodi Nikorima threw his pass over the sideline to negate a promising three on two situation.
But the home team had looked up for the battle – driving Jesse Bromwich back 10 metres in his first carry of the match – and soon got their reward.
Their opening try (13th minute) was a product of a powerful Leeson Ah Mau charge – the Kiwis prop bending the Storm defensive line – and the acceleration of Nikorima, who got to the outside of his man before slick hands from Peta Hiku put Ken Maumalo across.
The Warriors extended their lead six minutes later when Nikorima was first to a precise Blake Green grubber near the posts.
The Storm looked a bit rattled, and Smith then engaged in a lengthy discussion with the referees. Coincidence or not, the visitors seemed to get the rub of the green with the officials for the rest of the half, helping to change the momentum, as winger Josh Addo-Carr twice drew penalties at the ruck for holding down, while the Storm were seemingly innocent of all offences, and didn't get penalised again until the 50th minute.
That constant pressure eventually told, with Smith's sleight of hand creating a smart try for Jahrome Hughes four minutes before halftime.
The visitors made the perfect start to the second half with an early try, which exhibited both their penchant for little details and their ability to make the most of luck that comes their way.
The Storm did well to contest a huge Cameron Munster bomb, although it was a mystery how Munster ended up with the ball after a scramble on the ground. Hughes then dashed over between the posts, though there was possibly a case for Issac Luke being impeded by a Storm decoy runner.
But the Storm had the wind in their sails now, and it looked a long way back for the Warriors, especially when Suliasi Vunivalu dived over after a slick set move to extend the visitor's lead.
The Warriors had their chances, and were helped when Christian Welch was sinbinned after a series of infringements by the Storm. But the home side weren't creative enough to engineer an opening against the well-organised Storm defence and tries to Bromwich and Marion Seve completed a miserable evening for the Warriors.
Warriors 10 (K Maumalo, K Nikorima tries; I Luke con)
Storm 32 (J Hughes 2, Suliasi Vunivalu, J Bromwich, M Seve tries; C Smith 4 cons 2 pen)