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We were smug pre-match about the absence of NSW big guns Maloney, Cleary, Peachey and Campbell-Gillard, but we – and the Warriors – should have been more concerned with lesser-known threats Luai, Kikau and May.

Depleted Penrith routed a diabolical Warriors side 36-4 in a performance that could turn the Auckland-based club’s campaign upside down. After a gutsy and desperately unlucky loss to Cronulla last week, they brought up back-to-back losses for the first time in 2018 in the worst possible fashion.

They’ll be seventh at best by the end of Round 17.

And in contrast to limp individual displays from the likes of New Zealand internationals Peta Hiku and Shaun Johnson, it was a 21-year-old with only one bench cameo at NRL level under his belt that stole the show.

Last year’s Junior Kiwis captain Jarome Luai scored 20 points from two tries and six goals plus a try-assist in a dream performance. And not to take anything away from the clearly gifted kid – the Warriors put zero pressure on him.

Unacceptable defence was the obvious takeaway, but tactically they were a mess with the ball.

Another disgraceful refereeing performance in the first half certainly cruelled the Warriors’ momentum but there were no excuses after the break.

It was Matt Elliott-era bad.

In an absorbing and physical opening stanza it took almost half an hour for the first try to be posted.

The Warriors’ best chances were thwarted by a pair of highly dubious forward-pass calls – infuriating in the context of the Sharks loss and a couple of ultra-flat balls by the Panthers that were subsequently let go.

An ordinary fourth-tackle kick from Issac Luke allowed Penrith to get on top in the territory battle, earning two penalties and two line drop-outs.

Hiku’s one-on-one miss on Luai allowed the rookie halfback to thread a grubber for Panthers winger Tyrone Phillips to dot down.

The penalties continued to flow the way of the hosts and this time it was Chris Satae’s turn to get stood up by the livewire Luai, who skipped through for this first top-grade try.

A fifth and sixth straight penalty against the visitors saw Luai have two shots at goal inside the final three minutes of the half (he missed the second from in front) for an imposing 12-0 lead – a highly unsatisfactory scenario for the Warriors, who looked the goods in the opening 20 minutes.

A non-call on a Penrith forward pass in the lead-up to the last penalty goal was so farcical it even had This Warriors Life siding with the insufferable ‘Buzz’. There’s a first time for everything – except, it seems, a half-decent decision going in the Warriors’ favour in their last couple of hours of footy.

They went into the sheds up against it, but given the possession count ended almost two-thirds in the Panthers’ favour the scoreboard wasn’t as dire as it could’ve been.

The Warriors received an early chance and a breath-taking diving catch-and-pass from Adam Blair looked certain to send David Fusitu’a over in the corner. ‘Fus’ finishes those nine times out of 10 at worst, but a shoulder-charge – inexplicably not called – from Waqa Blake bundled him into touch.

Their subsequent attacking forays were rushed, low-percentage and poorly executed.

Viliame Kikau then humiliated Hiku, Satae and Fusitu’a to spark an 80-metre try finished off by Waqa Blake.

Hiku unforgivably gave up on the chase at a ridiculously early stage in a gutless play that should see him axed for Gerard Beale, Anthony Gelling or Blake Ayshford. Anyone.

The Warriors’ confidence and intensity sank to rock-bottom. Luai and May then combined to send Kikau over in a well-worked short-side raid on the last tackle.

24-blot with 18 minutes left. Game over.

The Warriors’ mortification was completed by a solo try from former Junior Kiwis skipper Luai that was as dazzling as the defence was pathetic. The D was equally wet paper bag-like as Corey Harawira-Naera capitalised on Trent Merrin’s second-phase a few minutes later.

The woeful guests ended a 144-minute try drought when some nice work from Blake Green – one of the Warriors’ best – led to a try to another player who could hold his head moderately high, Ken Maumalo.

A rare and ironic highlight was Blair’s magnificent, harworking performance in defence. He was one of the few that had a genuine dig.

A final margin of 32 points, a massive chunk of their credibility lost, and a painful nine-day wait full of soul-searching to atone in an absolutely vital away clash with Brisbane next weekend.

It was the Warriors’ fifth straight loss against their fellow top-eight sides, with four of those coming by margins of 20 or more.

Somewhat fittingly they will find themselves all the way down in eighth if the Broncos beat the Titans by 26 or more.

Over to you, ‘Mooks’.

Penrith 36 (Jarome Luai 2, Tyrone Phillips, Waqa Blake, Viliame Kikau, Corey Harawira-Naera tries; Luai 6 goals) defeated Warriors 4 (Maumalo try) at Panthers Stadium.


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