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The Warriors’ maddening inability to take their scoring chances underpinned a gut-wrenching 17-10 loss to a gritty North Queensland outfit at Mount Smart Stadium.

The Cowboys snapped a four-match losing streak – joining the Warriors on a 2-4 record after six rounds – and unquestionably deserved the two points. But the home favourites threw away a glut of gilt-edged opportunities in an unflattering defeat that heaps pressure on the 2018 finalists.

The Warriors scored the opening try of each half and seemed well on top after both, but mistakes and penalties cruelled their bid to put the Cowboys to the sword. Michael Morgan’s class was a massive advantage for the Cowboys down the stretch – particularly with a Blake Green-less Warriors appearing rudderless – while Josh McGuire, who should have been nowhere near a football field following his grubby eye-gouge last week, was the standout player of the match in his 200th NRL appearance.

McGuire shaded Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for man-of-the-match honours, with the Warriors skipper once again carrying the team on his back. A second straight Dally M Medal would be a formality if his teammates were anywhere near their 2018 standard.

Perennial punching bag Solomone Kata was moderately improved, but Adam Blair did nothing to ease exasperated calls from fans for his demotion and Peta Hiku’s halves foray was an abject failure.

Issac Luke’s ultra-busy start and a Lachlan Burr bust provided promising early signs for the Warriors. Less so Blair coughing up the ball with an overlap and try beckoning.

Agnatius Paasi was another to lead the Warriors’ charge in the opening quarter.

The hosts drew first blood at the 20-minute mark, Chanel Harris-Tavita’s long bullet and quick hands from Gerard Beale putting Ken Maumalo on the outside. Big Ken produced a strong finish for his third try of 2019.

Tuivasa-Sheck made a long break in the ensuing set, but his pass to Beale was intercepted as another four points went begging.

The Cowboys struck back in the 26th minute thanks to a last-tackle break from young five-eighth Jake Clifford, slicing between Burr and Isaiah Papali’i before sending Coen Hess over. Former Kiwi Jordan Kahu slotted the conversion for a 6-4 lead.

The Warriors had two tries correctly disallowed by the Bunker in consecutive plays around the half-hour mark. A tiny Tohu Harris knock-on denied Gerard Beale after Te Maire Martin had made a meal of an RTS kick, while a beautifully executed backline sweep from the resultant scrum – with David Fusitu’a planting it in typical aerial style – was vetoed by an obstruction call against Blair.

The Cowboys settled for two points on halftime after the Warriors soaked up several consecutive sets on their own line. An 8-4 advantage at the break was a handy result for the visitors, with the Warriors dominating the opening exchanges.

The possession count read 59 percent in the Cowboys’ favour at halftime, while they completed 16 of their 19 sets compared the Warriors’ substandard 12 from 20.

But Tuivasa-Sheck reclaimed the lead for his side with yet another blinding flash of individual brilliance in the 47th minute. A whip-crack left-foot step saw the skipper ghost through the Cowboys’ defensive line and he cruised around opposite number Martin to score behind the posts.

The Warriors had opportunities to push further in front soon afterwards via a Nate Roache break and a Blair one-on-one strip, but their attack inside the North Queensland’s 20 was clunky and lacked imagination.

A rare error from Tuivasa-Sheck gifted the Cowboys a chance in the 59th minute, which they took with Justin O’Neill scoring off an audacious first-tackle kick from Michael Morgan.

The momentum shift was palpable. A dumb penalty given away by Fusitu’a – who subsequently left the field injured – invited the Cowboys back into the Warriors’ 20-metre area, and Kahu booted them to a 16-10 lead with 15 minutes left when Roache was pinged in front of the posts.

Morgan then pushed his side out to a crucial seven-point buffer with a wobbly field goal.

Somewhat fittingly, the Warriors’ last-ditch attempts to set up a grandstand finish were foiled by dreadful play inside the Cowboys’ half – including another inexcusable Blair fumble.

Two wins from six rounds is a bad start by any measure. When you’ve played five teams that missed the finals last year, it’s bordering on disastrous.

The Warriors now face the Melbourne Storm on a five-day turnaround in a bumper Anzac Day showdown. Blake Green will make a difference if fit to return, but the realisation that he is the only line-up improvement that can be made other than giving in-form lower-graders a chance is harrowing.

Nevertheless, they need changes, which are unlikely to be made.

If Fusitu’a is ruled out, Stephen Kearney will likely put Gerard Beale into his starting three-quarter line and resist altering the rest of his 17. But there is no feasible explanation for continuing to retain Blair, other than reputation, loyalty and pay-packet. Others are clinging to a first-grade spot courtesy of Kearney’s lack of ruthlessness.

The coach’s bench rotation yet again bewildered. Luke was superb in the first 33 minutes – then sat on the bike for the rest of the game, with Jazz Tevaga and Roache struggling to match his influence in the big moments at dummy-half.

This was always a must-win clash given the Warriors’ win tally, the fact they were at home, and the Cowboys’ early-season struggles without their best player in Jason Taumalolo. The loss suggests this is a campaign in real danger of slipping away at a very early stage.

The players don’t look like they’re hurting enough, either.

A harsh spotlight will soon turn on the diabolical handling of Shaun Johnson and an overestimation of their roster, which is littered with middle-of-the-road talent with the exception of their phenomenal fullback.



























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