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We’re only halfway through the season.

That may be the most depressing aspect of the Warriors’ embarrassing 46-10 loss to Cronulla, marking the return of Sunday arvo footy with 80 minutes of defensive incompetence and Z-grade attack as well as ruining their perfect 2020 record in Gosford.

The Sharks asserted their dominance with tries inside the first four minutes of each half and never looked far away from finding their way across the stripe. Conversely, the Warriors enjoyed a pile of possession near the opposition line but rarely seemed capable of doing anything threatening with it.

Worryingly, this was touted as arguably the strongest line-up the Warriors has fielded this season after the return from injury of Kodi Nikorima and Eliesa Katoa, who both struggled to make an impact. But they were far from the worst in a team that completed at just 63 percent and conceded nine line-breaks.

While there was a couple of customary missteps during the first half, Sharks linchpin Shaun Johnson provided a stinging reminder of what the Warriors are missing with a solo try, two try-assists, two more slick try involvements and three sideline conversions in an 18-point performance.

It was the Warriors’ fourth loss in eight games by a margin of 26-plus points since the NRL’s resumption. For context, the club’s arduous 7-17 campaign in 2017 – the first under Stephen Kearney – did not feature a losing margin of more than 20 points.

The Warriors began with the rigidity of a wet tissue.

Cronulla easily breached the advantage line to power into opposition territory and ex-Warriors half Chad Townsend sent prop Braden Hamlin-Uele steaming into space and over for a fourth-minute try.

Sharks wing enigma Ronaldo Mulitalo gifted the Warriors an opportunity to hit straight back when he coughed up a bomb. But after some superb work from David Fusitu’a, Patrick Herbert inexplicably dropped the ball on the try-line.

The visitors immediately compounded the missed chance when Shaun Johnson created space from a scrum win for fullback Will Kennedy, who breezed past Peta Hiku to score.

Johnson kicked out on the full but the Warriors could not put anything constructive together during back-to-back shots at Cronulla’s line. Josh Dugan got a ball around the corner for Mulitalo to dive in at the end of the Sharks’ next set, and Johnson’s second sideline conversion made 18-0 at better than a point a minute.

But a successful captain’s challenge offered the Warriors another chance in the 22nd minute, which they took as Kodi Nikorima held the ball up to send Ken Maumalo over out wide.

It had been a patchy start from Johnson, but the Sharks No.6 burned his former club by following up his own grubber and producing a miraculous put-down after the Warriors failed in their in-goal clean-up assignment.

A thunderous hit from Agnatius Paasi on Toby Rudolf would have warmed the cockles of Warriors fans chastened by the big Cronulla forward’s decision to back out on his agreement to head to Auckland next year.

But several subsequent attacking raids just before halftime came to nothing for the ‘home’ side and they headed to the sheds 24-4 down.

The second half began as disastrously as the first for the Warriors. In just the third minute, Johnson gloved a Green kick on his own try-line and set off 30 metres upfield before linking with flyer winger Sione Katoa. Hiku valiantly ran down the noted speedster but was ultimately turned inside out as Katoa soared for his ninth try of the season.

Johnson’s exquisite ball-playing and quick hands led to subsequent tries to Jesse Ramien and Katoa – the latter coming after Green was sin-binned for taking out a Sharks kick-chaser.

A wayward Tohu Harris pass allowed Ramien to streak away for his double before the Warriors came up with their most exciting attacking passage of the match in the dying seconds, brilliant offloads from Jazz Tevaga and Tuivasa-Sheck setting up Wayde Egan for a late consolation effort.

It was so late and inconsequential NRL’s Twitter account didn’t both to post it in their feed, so we can’t show it to you.

Things only get harder for the Warriors next week, facing a six-day turnaround before taking on a Sydney Roosters outfit chastened by a loss to Canberra on Thursday.

The impending departure of Paasi, Fusitu’a and Maumalo – and the lack of further loan player options on the table – only add to the gravity of the marooned Warriors’ 10-game task ahead.

Meanwhile, as speculation around the Warriors appointing Ben and Shane Walker as their 2021 co-coaching team swirls, interim mentor Todd Payten’s chances of getting the job permanently are lengthening by the week. The highly-rated Payten is probably a victim of circumstance, thrown the coaching equivalent of a hospital pass by the club’s brass.

But, rightly or wrongly, he’s not going to get the nod while a team under his charge is losing in such meek fashion on the regular.



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