TWL RD 23 WRAP: SEASON OVER AS SJ SLICES AND DICES WARRIORS

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Judging by the Warriors’ season-ending 42-16 loss to Cronulla, Cameron George was right on the money in questioning some of the players’ effort levels – a public broadside that created a fair bit of controversy midweek.

In comparison, Kodi Nikorima (‘he should come say that to us instead’) and Stephen Kearney (‘leave the football stuff to me’) are wiping yolk off their faces in the wake of a sloppy, erratic and overall incompetent performance when the finals door was still ever so slightly ajar.

Not any more – the Warriors will officially miss the Top 8 for the seventh time in eight seasons. No ifs, ands, buts or mathematical chances about it.

But CEO George’s football nous can’t escape ridicule after Shaun Johnson – the longtime linchpin he played a leading hand in jettisoning from Auckland over the off-season – toyed with the Warriors to put the Sharks’ shaky finals aspirations back on track.

Johnson, revelling in playing behind a dominant pack and with a solid support cast around him, exposed the Warriors’ left-side defence with his speed and ball-playing, controlled the tempo superbly, and kicking impeccably in general play and off the tee.

The Warriors, with only Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (yet again) playing anywhere near elite standard, were totally rudderless.

The writing was on the wall early as Bronson Xerri scored inside five minutes.

But a handy kick from Blake Green saw David Fusitu’a climb to lay on a try for fellow returning outside-back Patrick Herbert.

Falling off tackles, giving away penalties and constantly back-pedalling was more the Warriors’ style at Shark Park, however.

Johnson sparked a raid that was finished off by Josh Morris, before Josh Dugan shrugged off several embarrassing tackle attempts to score the hosts’ third try.

The Warriors found a pocket of momentum to reduce the deficit to eight points. Isaiah Papali’i somewhat atoned for a dreadful half defensively by finishng off a helter skelter movement.

The Warriors had to keep the Sharks out until halftime to have any chance of winning the game and salvaging their campaign.

Enter Johnson, who continued his wonderful combination with rookie back-rower Briton Nikora courtesy of a deft try-assist pass.

The Warriors never looked capable of mounting any sort of comeback after the break.

Braden Hamlin-Uele – a rumoured target of the Warriors earlier this season before re-signing with the Sharks – and Ronaldo Mulitalo scored to put the game way out of reach.

Tuivasa-Sheck and Fusitu’a provided the highlight of the day for Warriors fans just after the hour mark.

The skipper created space out wide with his footwork then produced a floating, no-look cut-out pass that would have made Johnson blush, with ‘Fus’ dotting down in trademark fashion.

Fittingly, the Sharks had the last say when Morris swooped on a Warriors error and raced away for his second try.

Johnson knocked over the conversion to finish the day seven-from-seven.

Since the flashy playmaker made his NRL debut in 2011, the Warriors have a miserable 14-32 record without him. Their count of just nine wins in 22 games this season is certainly not solely down to his contentious off-season departure, but the idea that the Warriors would be better off without him has been well and truly debunked.

The club is desperately trying to come up with some decent buys to generate some optimism ahead of 2020. David Fifita would be a dream purchase, while Api Koroisau and Kurt Capewell could definitely add something. Working against the Warriors is the fact this year’s campaign will act as a deterrent to joining a team that has traditionally struggled to attract top-line Australian talent.

There’s still a fortnight of the regular season to play – and this squad really needs to stand up and show some backbone. Astonishingly, the Warriors have now won a game after mathematically slipping out of the finals equation since 2009 (when they beat the fellow also-ran Raiders, their only win in the last seven rounds).

After conceding 40-plus for the third time in four weeks, the last two rounds are looming as a death march for Warriors fans that deserve much, much better.

Cronulla Sharks 42 (Josh Morris 2, Bronson Xerri, Josh Dugan, Briton Nikora, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Ronaldo Mulitalo tries; Shaun Johnson 7 goals) defeated Warriors 16 (Patrick Herbert, Isaiah Papali’i, David Fusitu’a tries; Herbert, Luke goals) at Shark Park

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