TWL RD 2 WRAP: MAROONED WARRIORS SUBDUED BY SLOPPY RAIDERS

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The estimation of the Warriors’ character and commitment to the NRL’s and the club’s cause skyrocketed during an extraordinary week as rugby league forges on amid the COVID-19 pandemic – in no small part to the nomadic outfit’s selfless decision to remain in Australia.

But a 20-6 loss to an undeniably subpar Canberra at Gold Coast’s Cbus Super Stadium hinted at a long and trying season on the paddock for the competition’s castaways.

The mistake-riddled Raiders practically begged the Warriors to grab the ascendancy during the first half, but their pop-gun attack once again failed to fire a shot. The 2019 grand finalists scored the only try of the opening 40 minutes and effectively put the game to bed with a powerful surge early in the second stanza.

The Warriors finally broke their 2020 scoring duck in the 154th minute of their campaign courtesy of a late penalty try.

For the second straight week, rookie second-rower Eliesa Katoa comprehensively outperformed every one of his teammates and led the Warriors’ forwards again with 131 metres. The spark Adam Keighran tried to provide at centre was arguably the only other genuine individual positive to draw from another tough watch, though an overburdened Tohu Harris’ class threatened to shine through at various stages and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown provided front-row power off the bench.

Katoa showed guts to return to the field after taking a bad knock to the cheekbone midway through the second half.

The Raiders were well off the pace for the opening quarter of the match, making a slew of errors and giving away penalties. The Warriors looked far sharper with the ball than in last week’s insipid showing in Newcastle, but were unable to capitalise on a raft of opportunities inside the opposition 20.

Canberra belatedly broke the deadlock via a piece of brilliance from perennial Warriors nemesis Jarrod Croker, whose offload found second-rower Elliot Whitehead on the inside to score in the 21st minute.

It was a deflating juncture that could have seen the Warriors crumble and concede a pile of points – particularly after Nick Cotric busted their defence in the midfield. But the Raiders’ mistakes kept on stacking up.

The Warriors’ scoreless start to 2020 extended to a third straight half of footy, however, with under-fire halves Blake Green and Chanel Harris-Tavita again struggling to take control on their side’s attacking direction.

The 6-0 damage on the halftime scoreboard was not overly concerning – but with 56 percent possession and the Raiders completing only half of their sets and not showing a great deal with the ball in hand, the Warriors should realistically headed to the sheds at least on level terms.

But the Green Machine wasted little time clicking into gear after the resumption. Cotric continued to cause the Warriors headaches and drew an early penalty.

The end of the resultant set saw Josh Hodgson dab a grubber through for veteran forward Sia Soliola to dot down next to the posts.

The Raiders powered out to 16-0 with more than half an hour still to play after a dreadful handling error from Adam Blair 20 metres from the opposition try-line. Warriors discard Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad embarked on a long run into enemy territory and a quick shift sent Kiwi winger Bailey Simonsson over in the right-hand corner.

The Warriors were spared a landslide result by a pair of forward-pass rulings that denied Cotric two tries.

A penalty try in the 74th minute – after George Williams took Kodi Nikorima out on the try-line as he was about to latch onto a neat Wayde Egan kick – saved the Warriors from becoming just the second team after Annandale in 1920 to be held scoreless in their first two games of a season.

It was a handy omen to avoid: the ‘Dales finished that campaign 100 years ago winless and were dumped out of the premiership.

A couple of Adam Keighran errors foiled subsequent chances to set up an unlikely grandstand finish, while the Raiders made the final margin 14 points with a try to Curtis Scott in the final minute.

As in Newcastle a week ago, the Warriors were dogged enough to stop the scoreline from ballooning. But with Green and Harris-Tavita completely off the boil in the halves, it’s hard to see where the offensive improvement comes from.

There’s few options and even less ingenuity. There are no signs of the players’ off-season plea to coach Stephen Kearney to play a more expansive brand of football bearing fruit. Tohu Harris increasingly became the last-tackle option as the match wore on – another sign their halves have run out of ideas.

Blair’s butter-fingered effort and underwhelming performances from several long-serving forwards also don’t bode well for improvement.

The self-isolating cavalry will arrive ahead of Round 4, but it would be exceedingly optimistic to suggest Agnatius Paasi, Jazz Tevaga, Gerard Beale, Josh Curran and Patrick Herbert are capable of making a significant difference attack and results-wise.

It’s a tough call to drop the incumbents that are giving up plenty just to be there. But the likes of Adam Tuimavave-Gerard and whichever loan players come up for grabs have to come into Kearney’s plans if the Warriors are to dodge a maiden wooden spoon.

In a touching post-match moment, Hodgson gathered both teams into a circle on the field to speak about the Raiders’ – and the rugby league fraternity’s – appreciation for the Warriors’ sacrifice.

The Warriors will regroup at their adopted base in Kingscliff ahead of daunting assignment in Sydney against Manly next Friday.

NRL ROUND 2

Canberra Raiders 20 (Elliot Whitehead, Sia Soliola, Bailey Simonsson, Curtis Scott tries; Jarrod Croker 2 goals) defeated Warriors 6 (Kodi Nikorima (penalty) try; Chanel Harris-Tavita goal) at Cbus Super Stadium.

 

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