The Warriors have won an absolute nail biter at Mt Smart Stadium edging out a determined Sharks team 16 – 12.
History was on Cronulla’s side as they came into this match. They hadn’t lost to the Warriors since round 4 in 2011, and hadn’t been beaten by the Warriors at Mt Smart since round 2 in 2010. Nonetheless, with Cronulla missing a number of key figures, and the Warriors the in-form side, the odds looked ever in the Warriors’ favour.
A lively start to the match saw the Warriors continue their current run of scoring early points as they crossed over for the first try of the afternoon in the eighth minute. Having earned four repeat sets in the opening five or so minutes, it came as little surprise when Ngani Laumape crossed over to open the scoring. A great sideline conversion from Chad Townsend saw the Warriors take an early 6 – 0 lead.
The good start was soured five minutes later as Tuimoala Lolohea reaggravated a hamstring injury and had to be withdrawn in the 13th minute. Hard luck for the young star making his first NRL start. The injury saw Ben Henry introduced early, taking his place in the centres with Laumape moving out to the wing.
Things got worse for the Warriors only minutes later after the Sharks crossed over to square the scores. After a brilliant try saving tackles from Tomkins earlier in the set, the Warriors were unable to deal with a bobbling grubber in the in-goal area and were punished for their indecisiveness as Tinirau Arona managed to ground the ball for Cronulla’s first four-pointer. A successful conversion saw the scores levelled at 6 – 6 with 14 minutes played.
The developing arm wrestle continued as the Warriors were over again in the 23rd minute with Laumape getting his double. The winger received the ball out wide, pinned his ears back and made straight for the try line, doing well to avoid Michael Gordon’s last ditch tackle, before grounding the ball. Although the Warriors had looked like they’d lost some of their attacking structure in the preceding few minutes, Laumape’s try and Townsend’s conversion saw them regain a six point lead with 25 minutes played.
The Warriors further extended their lead a few minutes later when Manu Vatuvei drove his way across the line. Vatuvei collected the ball from a slick Dane Nielsen out-the-back flick pass before forcing his way through a couple of Cronulla defenders for the four pointer. The on-field decision was no try but the man upstairs decided that Manu had indeed crossed the line and overturned the decision giving the Warriors a 16 – 6 lead.
Both teams had a couple of opportunities to add a few more points before the break but at the half the score remained 16 – 6 to the Warriors. The home side had been the dominant team throughout the first half keeping 63% of possession and racking up 799 meters (compared to Cronulla’s 415). Big Manu alone recorded an impressive 90 meters in the first half. He would go on to finish the match with a total of 200 meters from 22 carries. It was another massive performance from the man known as ‘The Beast’.
The second half was a different story. Throughout the half the Warriors looked sloppy, conceding a number of penalties and committing too many errors. They often appeared devoid of ideas on attack and seemed unable to find a killer blow against a very determined, and very effective, Cronulla defense. The Warriors will no doubt look forward to the return of Johnson and Hurrell as they struggled to create, or finish, their point scoring opportunities throughout the second half.
The only points of the second half came in the 59th minute courtesy of a flying Sosaia Feki. Feki flew straight over the grounded Laumape to collect a well-placed kick and pull the Sharks to within four points of the Warriors.
Cronulla should have had another four pointer in the 75th minute after a brilliant break but butchered the chance and allowed the Warriors to cling onto their fragile lead.
The Warriors themselves had a chance to extend the lead to six points in the dying minutes but Townsend missed the penalty attempt. I won’t lie, breathing became difficult in those last few minutes.
The Warriors went on to survive and clinch another valuable two points which sees them jump to sixth on the ladder. It was a well fought win by the Warriors, but their struggles in attack won’t alleviate any pressure on trying to get Johnson and Hurrell back into the squad. Maybe this kind of performance was just what the doctor ordered before next week’s trip to Hunter Stadium to face the Knights.
A nod to Sam Tomkins who made a number of try-saving tackles throughout the match, and Manu for his hard running and big meters.
The ‘Credit where credit is due’ Award goes to Andrew Fifita. The big man was told he had a possible crack in his fore-arm at half time but returned to the match before limping off with an ankle issue not long after. Unfortunately for Fifita, his 8 – 0 win recorded against the Warriors ended today (but let’s be honest – it was about time the Warriors got one over on him).
What are your main talking points following the Warriors’ latest win?