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Thoughts and talking points from the Warriors’ gut-wrenching and contentious 18-15 loss to the Sharks on Friday night.

Rub of the green

The Warriors have generally had a decent share of the 50-50 calls in 2018, but even the most anti-Warriors rugby league supporter, if they were being honest, would have to admit they got a shockingly dud deal against Cronulla.

The rugby union-like application of the advantage rule that led to the Sharks’ first try; Paul Gallen’s histrionics basically mind-fucking the referees into blowing a laughable penalty against Chris Satae in possession, which subsequently saw Chad Townsend kick a go-ahead penalty from another dubious penalty; and the coup de grace of officiating incompetence, missing an obvious forward pass for Edrick Lee’s late match-winner.

There were half a dozen other instances where the Warriors found themselves on the wrong end of a touch-and-go decision.

As has been pointed out ad nauseum since, Cronulla went down to Brisbane in Round 15 after a missed forward pass – what goes around comes around, so the theory goes. It’s a nice philosophy. But rusted-on fans know that when it comes to getting the short end of the refereeing stick, traditionally it doesn’t.

Winning the big moments

It’s easy, somewhat justified and maybe even comforting to blame the defeat on bad calls. But it also has to be acknowledged that the Warriors could have taken matters out of fate’s hands in the dying minutes.

Issac Luke keeping himself onside from Blake Green’s bomb spilled by Valentine Holmes wouldn’t have given the Sharks the opportunity to march upfield, while Simon Mannering’s inability to clean up the loose ball after the Warriors charged down Matt Moylan’s field goal attempt was a defining moment.

The Warriors haven’t been involved in many tight games against top-shelf teams so far this season and the Sharks’ superior experience in those situations was telling. They need to be better when the game is on the line.

Gleaning positives

The sting of two points that went begging makes it difficult to look on the bright side, but there were reasons to smile.

Firstly, Cronulla has emerged as a trendy premiership contender pick and has been in great form. The Warriors pushed them to the limit after not only losing to every fellow top-eight side since rolling the Saints in Round 7, but getting flogged.

Putting themselves in a position to win the match after being steamrolled for the 30 minutes leading into halftime showed resolve that was missing in losses to the Storm, Roosters and Rabbitohs. The Warriors were also missing three first-choice stars in Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu’a and Adam Blair, and lost two of their hardest-working forwards, Bunty Afoa and Tohu Harris, on the run.

They couldn’t close it out but it was a vital building block if they can channel this pain, learn the lesson and parlay it into a strong run home.

Captain fantastic

However the team performs as a unit, we can always count on a top-shelf performance from our skipper.

Friday’s was another unbelievable display in a career-best season. Tuivasa-Sheck rolled up his sleeves when his team was struggling, pulled off some extraordinary clean-up work at the back and made a scorching line-break to all but get his team the win.

The highlight was undoubtedly his brilliant double try-saver in the second half.

Critics may look at his 2015 campaign lovingly through red, white and blue-tinted glasses, but he is a far more rounded fullback now.

Still a huge chance in the Dally M Medal stakes and if the judge didn’t give him at least two votes the other night they’re taking the piss.

Depth test

Injuries haven’t exactly been kind to the Warriors this year and the likely absence of Afoa – the Warriors’ only forward to play in all 15 games this year – and Harris will stretch the club’s resources again. The duo have arguably been the Warriors’ two best, most consistent forwards.

The mid-season departure of Albert Vete, who was the next front-row cab off the rank, is untimely, while Adam Blair still has a week left to serve on suspension and Leivaha Pulu is still in the casualty ward.

Sam Lisone and Ligi Sao will be pushing for a first-grade recall, second-rower/centre Joseph Vuna could get another bench nod, and ISP back-rowers Matiu Love-Henry and King Vuniyayawa may come into the frame for Stephen Kearney’s 17.

Whoever gets the call-up, at least the anticipated return of Maumalo and Fusitu’a will ease the forwards’ ball-carrying load.

Make or break

Ladder-wise, that would have been one hell of a handy win. Instead of sitting second or third and just two points off the front-running Dragons, the Warriors now drop to fifth with the Roosters, Sharks and Broncos breathing down their necks.

With a huge gap between the top eight and the bottom half, missing the finals doesn’t appear to be a concern for the Warriors (yet) but after a 10-4 start, finishing seventh or eighth would be a rank disappointment.

The next few rounds will shape their destiny: an away clash with a Penrith side who will be without James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Tyrone Peachey and – if the judiciary has any bottle whatsoever – James Tamou; a post-Origin III assignment against the Broncos in Brisbane; and a home blockbuster against Melbourne.

All three will be tough. All three carry a virtual four-point swing on the table. Lose all three, and the Warriors will be outright eighth and potentially have the Tigers and/or Raiders ready to pounce. And from bitter experience, we all know relying on late-season wins isn’t an ideal position for the Warriors to be in.

Be quiet about Denver already

Seriously, can everyone STFU about the Denver Test now? If every piece of negative rhetoric about the ground-breaking clash between New Zealand and England was to be taken on face value, last Sunday’s Test was more disruptive, unjust and counterproductive than the Super League War, the 1981 Springbok Tour and the Rainbow Warrior bombing put together.

In reality, it was just another game of footy – and an important one, particularly for the NZRL – with a day or two of missed training. The delays returning were unfortunate but what has been glossed over is that instead of a three-leg flight that arrived back Tuesday, the squad got on a direct flight that landed Wednesday morning.

Issac Luke, Peta Hiku and several Kiwis at other clubs proved backing up the following weekend wasn’t that big a deal.

Meanwhile, no one bat’s an eyelid about every club possessing an Origin player being forced to play without them for one game and have them back a couple of days after interstate warfare for another game (or have them sit out another game).

It was disappointing to see the anti-Denver sentiment get more airtime in the post-match presser. Look at the bigger picture, or don’t complain when rugby league becomes a backwater sport internationally.

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