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After regaining respect with a rousing win over Brisbane and an honourable loss to Melbourne, the Warriors’ 2018 campaign is in uncomfortable limbo once again courtesy of a humiliating 36-12 defeat to 12th-placed Gold Coast Titans.

The Warriors lost after leading at halftime for the first time this year, inexplicably outscored 28-0 in the second stanza by the NRL’s second-worst defensive outfit.

Despite a patchy opening 40 minutes, there was a distinct feeling the floodgates would open in the Warriors’ favour after the break in front of a distinctly pro-Warriors crowd at Cbus Super Stadium. But schoolboy-level defence, shabby ball control and an all-round lack of energy consigned them to their worst loss of the season at the hands of an on-fire Titans – the Warriors’ first defeat on the holiday strip since the 2010 finals.

A sparkling performance from Shaun Johnson was about the only bright spot as the Warriors melted in the Gold Coast sunshine – at least a dozen of his teammates put in their most ordinary display of 2018.

Meanwhile, the recent referee carve-up of the Warriors continued in farcical fashion inside the first 10 minutes, Konrad Hurrell getting one over his old mates with the opening try – despite a covering Joseph Vuna blatantly being knocked off his feet by Keegan Hipgrave.

Henry Perenara, manning the Bunker, yet again put his incompetence on show with the shockingly inconsistent ruling.

But some hot-stepping brilliance from Shaun Johnson levelled the scores at 6-all soon after, running the ball on the last to bag an eye-catching solo try.

The Gold Coast heat was taking its toll on the Warriors, who came up with several errors with and without the ball. The visitors were fortunate to escape with just a Michael Gordon penalty goal in the 29th minute added to the scoreboard.

The Warriors hit the front for the first time eight minutes out from halftime after a strong run by Leivaha Pulu, with fellow former Titan Karl Lawton powering over from dummy-half.

More last-tackle genius from Johnson almost produced a try in the final minute of the half but Solomone Kata’s one-handed pass for an unmarked Ken Maumalo was called forward.

The confidence of the Warriors’ 10-0 record in 2018 when leading at halftime took an immediate hit after the resumption thanks to a horrible defensive miss from Kata on opposing centre Brenko Lee.

Lee steamed into open space and sent Anthony Don over for the Titans’ second try and a 14-12 advantage – and the Warriors started to implode.

A dumb Sam Lisone penalty after the restart put the Warriors under pressure again straight away, then after they regained possession from a short restart, Jazz Tevaga’s pass was brilliantly intercepted by Ash Taylor, who scooted away for a try.

A bevy of subsequent chances to hit back were butchered through clunky and panicked attack and the Warriors fell further behind when a Mitch Rein dart found support in rookie five-eighth AJ Brimson, who beat Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to score.

At 26-12 down, the Warriors were at crisis point – and it only got worse.

Rather than play conservatively to protect its lead, Gold Coast began playing like title contenders.

Offloads from Ryan James and Michael Gordon put Phillip Sami into the clear, and the young winger left Tuivasa-Sheck floundering again for the Titans’ fifth try.

Sami had a double after the Titans did what the Warriors were unable to do all day: execute a try from an overlap. Disastrous loss had descended into complete mortification at 36-12 with eight minutes left.

The Titans were electric, but this is a team that was lapped 34-0 at home by an Origin-depleted Broncos only a few weeks back and had little to play for but pride.

Following Wests Tigers’ upset loss to Canterbury, the Warriors had the opportunity to virtually seal their spot in the finals and continue to push for a top-four finish…and absolutely flubbed it in embarrassing style.

They played as if their halftime lead gave them the right to go on with the job without having to put in the hard work.

The team is staying across the Tasman ahead of next Saturday’s daunting assignment against St George Illawarra in Wollongong. But Stephen Kearney may be sending a few of today’s 17 back to Auckland for ISP duty.

Redemption is only a win away – and a first-ever victory over the Dragons at WIN Stadium would be the perfect tonic for an unacceptable loss. The Warriors’ now-trademark ability to respond from a bad defeat with a stirring bounce-back performance will be given a gruelling acid test.

On the plus side, Adam Blair will be back and hopefully Issac Luke and Tohu Harris as well. But there’s a couple of other guys who will probably be spared the axe that will be on their last chance.

Gold Coast Titans 36 (Phillip Sami 2, Konrad Hurrell, Anthony Don, Ashley Taylor, AJ Brimson tries; Michael Gordon 6 goals) defeated New Zealand Warriors 12 (Shaun Johnson, Karl Lawton tries; Johnson 2 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium.

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