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The Warriors belatedly proved they can go toe-to-toe with the premiership’s cream, but ultimately their 12-6 loss to Melbourne Storm was an opportunity lost in 80 scrappy, disjointed minutes at Mount Smart Stadium.

The hosts were physical and gutsy; they played with tonnes of heart. Unfortunately, their execution and composure on attack was second-rate – Blake Green’s late withdrawal had a glaring impact, while Issac Luke’s second-half exit with a shoulder injury derailed their direction and punch with the ball further.

The Storm did just enough. A try right on halftime proved crucial, with a pair of Cameron Smith penalty goals the only points in the second stanza. The defending premiers’ guile – particularly that of Smith – was the single-most decisive factor in the victory.

It took less than three minutes for the Storm to punish the Warriors’ left-side defence in an ominous throwback to Anzac Day.

A deft-but-forward pass from halfback Jahrome Hughes saw Will Chambers leave Solomone Kata posted, and the Queensland centre outfoxed the home side’s cover on his way to a 50-metre try.

But this time the Warriors managed to hit straight back.

Shaun Johnson’s cross-field kick found an aerial David Fusitu’a, who threw the ball down for Gerard Beale to dive over in the corner. Johnson slotted the conversion from out wide to edge the Warriors 6-4 in front.

The Warriors’ subsequent chances in good ball came unstuck through sloppy passes but Johnson, Beale and Fusitu’a were making plenty of inroads down the right-hand channel. Meanwhile, their defence tightened up impressively after that early lapse.

The Warriors came within 55 seconds of leading at halftime – where they are 10-0 at converting games into victory in 2018 – but the Storm snatched the advantage through Suliasi Vunivalu.

The giant Fijian winger outjumped Ken Maumalo for a Hughes kick and held off Kata to plant the ball in the corner. Melbourne 8-6 at the break.

The Warriors had all the early running in the second half but couldn’t convert that into points. Kata was rightly denied by the video ref after a quite frankly dumb double-movement.

Melbourne marched upfield, forced a repeat set but the recently-employed short restart plan paid off again for the Warriors. The second short one from Johnson went out on the full, however, and Cameron Smith edged the Storm out to 10-6 with 24 minutes left.

If between, pure outrage.

Refereeing incompetence ruined a barnstorming Maumalo kick-return, with Smith hitting the Warriors winger high shot then shoving the Warriors winger as he tried to play it. Knock-on called.

Smith’s embarrassing influence over the NRL’s match officials is unparalleled in the history of the game. It was a pivotal part of the match and marked the second time in as many outings the Warriors could walk off Mount Smart feeling hard done by at the hands of the whistle-blowers.

Opposing No.9 Luke’s departure was even more damaging to the Warriors’ hopes of coming from behind, with Jazz Tevaga again struggling to deputise at dummy-half effectively.

Chance after chance went begging through the Warriors’ impatience, dreadful execution and obsession with throwing the ball wide too early and too flat-footed.

A late penalty goal gave the Storm a six-point buffer and the Warriors rushed their opportunities in the dying minutes.

The team can take plenty of confidence from their performance – the Warriors pushed the competition’s benchmark to the brink. Their defence across the park and the performance of Tuivasa-Sheck, Maumalo (on both sides of the ball) and Gerard Beale are huge positives.

On the debit side, Kata and Mannering were a real mixed bag after both producing their best game of 2018 just seven days earlier, and the forwards struggled to make inroads with the ball.

The Warriors will finish the weekend back in eighth spot but only a win off fourth. Next weekend’s assignment on the Gold Coast shapes as must-win with ninth-placed Wests Tigers suddenly picking up steam.

It’s going to be a hair-rising seven-week scramble for top-eight positions – but on current form the Warriors are as well-placed as the Sharks, Roosters, Panthers and Broncos.




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