TWL RD 24 WRAP: WARRIORS FALL AWAY AGAINST RABBITS

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It sums up the Warriors’ season that we’re talking about a 31-10 loss as a vastly-improved effort.

The South Sydney Rabbitohs were convincing, deserved winners, but they were forced to work hard by a Warriors side chastened by two heavy defeats in Australia in the past fortnight.

Ultimately, poor discipline and isolated defensive lapses paved the way to their fifth defeat in six games. The Warriors were pounded 12-8 in the penalty count, while the Rabbitohs’ dominance in the tackle-breaks (49-24) and line-breaks (7-2) departments suggested the match should have finished far more lopsided than four tries to two.

The Warriors’ general commitment could not be faulted. But reasons they will not be playing finals football in 2019 abounded everywhere. Football IQ hovered around dunce levels at times. Offensively, they were aimless – and a significant chunk of the blame can be apportioned to underperforming halves Kodi Nikorima (aside from one piece of blistering inspiration) and Blake Green.

Meanwhile, Chanel Harris-Tavita – the Warriors’ most creative playmaker, bewilderingly benched by Stephen Kearney this week – spent four minutes at hooker before suffering a suspected broken arm. It was a gut-wrenching end to the rookie’s campaign and yet another indictment on the coach’s selection policies.

The result sees the Warriors finished with an abysmal 3-7 record at Mt Smart.

The Warriors brought the physicality early, regularly sending Souths’ ball-runners back-pedalling towards their own try-line.

But their promising start came undone courtesy of a coach-killing penalty in the ruck from Isaiah Papali’i. Rabbitohs lock Cameron Murray stepped past Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on his way to the first try under the posts – though the Bunker was absurdly quick to breeze past a potential double-movement.

An infuriating flop from Papali’i – this time on the first tackle – opened the door again for the visitors (and galvanised supporters of the out-of-favour Leivaha Pulu).

Alex Johnston celebrated his return from a two-month layoff by finishing a simple backline sweep in the 27th minute. Adam Reynolds converted for the sideline, then added a penalty goal five minutes later for a 14-0 lead.

The signs were ominous for the Warriors, but Tuivasa-Sheck’s elusiveness opened up an opportunity for Adam Pompey – a late replacement at centre for Patrick Herbert, who was injured in the warm-up – to slice through for his maiden NRL try.

The hosts went back-to-back in sensational fashion, Kodi Nikorima belying a church mouse-quiet first half when he exploded late in the ensuing set.

The five-eighth scorched through the Rabbitohs’ defensive line and put in a superb grubber, which sat up for Ken Maumalo. The big winger rejoined Latrell Mitchell at the top of the NRL tryscoring leaderboard with 17 thanks to a composed put-down.

At 14-10 down, the scoreboard was more of a reflection of the Warriors’ much-improved effort and intensity during the opening forty.

The story of the second half, though, was penalties – most of them going against the home side.

Reynolds booted Souths eight points clear with two penalty goals in the space of four minutes. The back-breaker came when Sam Lisone was pinged for a high tackle; Murray backed up a Cody Walker bust (with Lisone also missing the tackle) to scamper over for his second try and a 24-10 lead with 22 minutes left.

The referees gave the pea an absolute buffetting and the Warriors never came close to threatening the Rabbitohs’ line. Any decent possession was squandered through Green’s bumbling and Nikorima’s reluctance to get involved.

Campbell Graham’s long run – halted by an RTS try-saver – had the Warriors’ defence in disarray, allowing Dane Gagai to cross for a 70th-minute try on the next play.

Reynolds iced the result with a booming left-footed field goal.

So despite a more spirited performance, the Warriors still found themselves on the wrong end of a margin of more than 20 points for the seventh time this season. Back in 2017 – a universally-acknowledged disaster in which they won only seven games – Kearney’s charges’ biggest defeat was by exactly 20 points.

Where to from here? Well, first of all, there’s a daunting final-round assignment in Canberra. Beyond that? Hard to say with even a shred of optimism, given the diabolical state of the Warriors’ roster and off-contract players from rival teams avoiding the Auckland-based outfit like the plague.

South Sydney Rabbitohs 31 (Cameron Murray 2, Alex Johnston, Dane Gagai tries’ Adam Reynolds 7 goals; Reynolds field goal) defeated Warriors 10 (Adam Pompey, Ken Maumalo tries; Issac Luke goal) at Mt Smart Stadium.

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