The Warriors’ 2021 NRL campaign is rounding the halfway marker, but the team and its fans headed into the bye with the bitter aftertaste of a frustrating, flummoxing 29-28 loss to North Queensland Cowboys.
The match was a fairly accurate microcosm of so many campaigns in the club’s 27-season history: a dreadful first half stacked with shoot-yourself-in-the-foot moments, a stirring fight-back to seemingly grasp glory…and a gut-wrenching finish.
Focusing on the here-and-now, the Warriors’ second defeat by last-minute field goal in 2021 leaves them ninth on the ladder with a 5-7 record. In one of the most bottom-heavy competitions of the salary-cap era, it’s certainly not a terrible outcome – even if it is subpar. The Warriors are just one win off sixth, while the two teams directly above them – the Cowboys and St George Illawarra Dragons – currently shape as two of the least deserving finals teams of all time.
Last Friday’s result has had a sizeable impact on the Warriors’ NRL Outrights odds, however. They have eased out to $31 to win the premiership (from $23 last week) and $2.64 for a Top 8 Finish (from $2.30 last week). A Top 4 Finish is regarded as a $46 pipedream – despite Manly, just one win ahead of the Warriors, sitting at $6.60 in that market.
Curiously, Todd Payten’s 6-6 Cowboys are $56 longshots for the title but $2.34 to make the playoffs.
Warriors history tells us not to panic. The club has won more games than it lost by the halfway mark of the season just five times: in the foundation 1995 season – when the Warriors went 6-5 in a 22-round comp but lost the points from one of those wins through an interchange bungle and missed the playoffs on for-and-against – and in the finals-bound years of 2002 (10-2 in a ), 2003 (7-5), 2011 (7-5) and 2018 (8-4), all 24-game competitions.
PODCAST | The Advantage Line crew give their mid-season review of every club, before looking forward to this weekend's games and giving their thoughts on the State Of Origin I teams.
— TAB Sport (@TAB_Sport) June 2, 2021
The Warriors went 6-6 in 2014 and ’15, again missing the Top 8 on for-against in the former year and fading badly after Shaun Johnson broke his ankle in the latter.
But a negative win-loss ratio at the halfway point has by no means been a reason to write the Warriors off.
The Kiwi outfit qualified for a maiden finals series in 2001 despite taking a 5-7-1 record in the second half of a 26-game premiership. The 2007 Warriors recovered from 4-8 to grab a Top 4 finish for only the second (and, to date, last) time with nine wins and a drawn in their last 12 games. In 2008, the Warriors were 5-7 at the halfway mark but finished eighth – and went on a memorable charge to a prelim final – with seven wins from their last nine regular-season assignments. Similarly in 2010, the Warriors improved from 5-7 to 14-10 by the end of the season, landing fifth.
The expected post-bye return of much-needed front-row spearhead Addin Fonua-Blake and the emergence of teenage dreamboat Reece Walsh are reasons to be optimistic about a trademark revival over the second half of the season.
And a squiz at the NRL’s past decade suggests we should expect some turnover from the halfway Top 8.
Cronulla replaced Wests Tigers last year. Newcastle plummeted from fourth to 11th in 2019, with Brisbane sneaking into their finals spot. The hapless Tigers were usurped by the Broncos in 2018.
In 2011-12 and 2016, one team dropped out of the halfway-mark Top 8, while from 2013-15 and in 2017, there were two changes by the end of the regular season.
The Dragons – $101 longshots for the premiership and $3.36 for a Top 8 Finish – loom as the team most likely to make way for a Warriors surge to the finals.
While the Warriors kick up their heels for the weekend, the Saints are $1.41 favourites in Thursday’s opener of an Origin-affected, four-game NRL Round 13 schedule against the Broncos ($2.80). But TAB’s The Shark is urging punters to get on the Broncos with a 5.5-point start, while he’s got the Broncos head-to-head as his Value Bet.
— The Shark (@TABShark) June 2, 2021