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Arguably the Warriors’ most impressive opening half-hour of the season gave way to one of their most demoralising losses of 2019 as the ultra-professional Melbourne Storm eased to a 32-10 win at Mount Smart Stadium.

The home side were physical, committed and crisp for the majority of the first half in powering to a 10-2 lead. But a try just before the break seemed to rattle the Warriors’ confidence and they capitulated in a 24-0 second-half landslide.

After a rocky start, Melbourne talisman Cameron Smith toyed with the Warriors with ridiculous ease. The Warriors could not have got the Storm in a better situation – in Auckland, three days after a gruelling Origin series opener – but their four interstate reps were not required to do a great deal as the likes of Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Dale Finucane, Brandon Smith and Christian Welch picked up the slack.

The Warriors have now slumped to a 4-8 record. For a bit of perspective, that is equal to their worst record in any season post-1999. Their record in New Zealand this season is two wins and five losses. They are a team on the brink.

The Warriors tried to replicate the Storm’s penchant for spoiling play and slowing down the ruck in the opening exchanges, but disguised it about 20 percent as well as the perennial heavyweights. Cameron Smith booted the visitors to a 2-0 advantage after back-to-back blatant penalties against Adam Blair and Agnatius Paasi.

Kodi Nikorima butchered a great attacking chance on the right edge with an errant pass. But he laid on the opening try on the left in the 15th minute with a combination of searing pace off the mark to create an overlap and a superb ball for Peta Hiku.

Hiku held a pass up for Ken Maumalo to stroll in untouched for his eighth try of the season and a 4-2 lead.

The Warriors’ ruck speed was catching Melbourne out – and the Storm’s attempts to slow it down weren’t fooling the officials for a change.

A deft Blake Green grubber saw Nikorima score beside the posts, despite flagrant interference from Storm halfback Brodie Croft, who somehow avoided 10 in the bin for his professional foul (and later failed an HIA).

The schadenfreude ratcheted up a couple of notches when Cameron Smith, whose complaints were falling on deaf ears, crashed heavily into the advertising hoardings while chasing a kick. But he was at his puppet-master best from that point onwards.

The Warriors handled the Storm’s attacking forays with relative ease, but a cheap late shot from the recently-introduced Chris Satae on Josh Addo-Carr proved costly.

Jahrome Hughes forced his way over on a last-tackle blindside dart – with Smith’s dummy-half sleight-of-hand integral – for the competition leaders’ first try.

The 10-8 halftime scoreline in favour of the Warriors did not reflect their general superiority.

And the importance of Hughes’ try was compounded when the Kiwi utility – who moved from fullback to halfback with Croft off – cruised under the posts for a double on the back of a fortuitous six-again call.

Poor options, errors and penalties stymied any hope of the Warriors regaining the ascendancy.

Karl Lawton was pinged for a slow peel and fullback replacement Ryan Papenhuyzen (side note – what a luxury bringing a player of his class off the bench into a key role) chimed in to send Suliasi Vunivalu over in the corner. Smith’s sideline conversion made it 20-10.

Welch’s sin-binning in the 57th minute for a cynical penalty near the Storm try-line gave the Warriors a gilt-edged opportunity but they couldn’t capitalise, despite being awarded two more subsequent penalties.

Smith effectively sealed the result – and embarrassed the Warriors’ goal-line defence – while his team were still a man short, dribbling a grubber through for Jesse Bromwich to dot down for the simplest of tries.

Subsequent efforts from the Warriors to salvage something from the night were riddled with halfheartedness and poor execution.

A Smith penalty goal and a soft try run in by Marion Seve completed the rout.

Perhaps most frustrating was the Warriors showed a fraction of the resolve and concentration that marked their courageous, undermanned Anzac Day loss.

A fourth straight loss at Mt Smart Stadium – with a shocking points aggregate of 95 points conceded to 40 scored – is a major concern. Rarely has their spiritual home felt like less of a fortress.

It’s hard to pinpoint from the outside, but the Warriors appear rudderless and devoid of the requisite hunger. The gritty defence that marked their dour loss to the Broncos was absent; their sloppy attack from that match carried over. Strong wins over the Dragons and Panthers have deceived us all, and the stark reality is all four of their victories in 2019 have come against pretty ordinary teams.

Only the mediocrity of the midtable – and one of the great form reversals – can keep the Warriors in the finals race. But at present, they are as far from being a finals-quality outfit as they’ve ever been.


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