TWL RD 12 WRAP: WARRIORS UP TO RUCK ALL AGAINST RAMPANT RABBITS

The Warriors’ 2018 revival has been underpinned by vastly-improved fitness, defensive steel and engine-room grit, but South Sydney’s complete and utter domination of the ruck was the grim tale of a 30-10 Mount Smart mauling.

It was men against boys in the middle of the park, the monster Rabbitohs pack thundering upfield at will throughout a one-sided encounter.

If Souths’ rapid play-the-balls weren’t providing a metre-eating bonanza, they were attracting offside penalties. And the tired, back-pedalling Warriors had little to offer defensively inside their own red-zone.

They weren’t much better with the ball, however.

With Shaun Johnson still sidelined and Mason Lino a late withdrawal, the wily but snail-paced Blake Green’s limitations were magnified in 80 minutes as the Warriors’ only genuine playmaker. Their play inside the Rabbitohs’ 20-metre area was eyewateringly laboured and their all-round kicking game awful.

Looking at the defeat with a wider lens, it was another case of when the 2018 Warriors lose, they lose horribly. Their three losses in the past five rounds have come by a combined margin of 92 points.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – the Warriors’ best by some margin – limping off with an apparent ankle injury capped a nightmare outing for the home side, though the early diagnosis was that it is a minor sprain.

But there were few signs of what was to unfold in the opening exchanges.

The Warriors needed less than five minutes to get on the board, going against the grain of virtually every team (themselves included) by spurning the opportunity for an easy two points.

Their boldness was rewarded when Agnatius Paasi burrowed over next to the posts for his first try as a Warrior.

Souths prop Tom Burgess paid the price for his side conceding four early penalties, despatched to the sin-bin in the 10th minute.

But after an infuriating first-tackle fumble from Adam Blair, the Rabbitohs breezed into opposition territory and George Burgess reached out for just about the softest try conceded by the Warriors all season.

The visitors then took a 10-6 lead despite being a man short on the back of another penalty.

A superb set play – culminating in a brilliant overhead pass from Greg Inglis – put Robert Jennings over in the corner.

Souths’ lightning ruck speed had the Warriors on the ropes; they then went in for the knockout.

Adam Reynolds kicked a penalty goal, Cody Walker laid on a try for Inglis, and Tom Burgess atoned for a forgettable start that also saw him put on report for tripping with a brute-strength try.

Souths up 22-6 after half an hour, with the goal-line resilience that has typified much of the Warriors’ campaign left sitting somewhere in the dressing sheds.

An opportunity to claw back into the contest just before the break went begging as a try-line-bound Chris Satae spilled the ball under the Rabbitohs’ cross-bar.

The penalty count favoured Souths 8-6 at halftime (after an 4-0 start against them) while the Warriors sat on the wrong side of a 22-10 missed tackle tally.

The onslaught continued immediately after the resumption.

Peta Hiku moving out of the centres was viewed as a positive from a defensive perspective, but the fill-in five-eighth came up with a humiliating misread to allow John Sutton to stroll through for the Rabbitohs’ fifth.

Remarkably – and in a minor positive – the Warriors managed to escape without any further pillaging of their try-line, even after Tohu Harris was given a stint in the bin. But stagnant attack prevented them from making any inroads to the deficit after being offered ample opportunities.

Sam Burgess became the third player to be handed an enforced 10-minute spell as the pea continued to get a robust workout, and the extra space allowed Solomone Kata – a rare shining light on the night for the hosts – to streak away to the corner for a drought-breaking four-pointer with five minutes left.

Despite winning two-thirds of their games, another ugly losing margin means the Warriors inexplicably have a negative for-and-against, allowing Souths and potentially Cronulla to leapfrog them on the ladder this weekend.

It’s a disappointing way to head into the bye and to round the halfway marker of a season that has, for the most part, overflowed with positives.

The Warriors will resurface in a fortnight’s time in Christchurch for a showdown with Manly, hopefully with Shaun Johnson on deck, hopefully with a redefined strategy for combatting big forward packs.

But hey, we’re still 8-4 – and well-placed to embark on a trademark Origin period charge.

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