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The Warriors’ invite to the Great Big Kiwi Coast Party got lost in the mail, failing to turn up in Gosford as Melbourne Storm cruised to a 42-16 victory and grabbed top spot on the NRL ladder.

The slow-starting Storm practically begged the Warriors to take the early ascendancy but an appalling lack of execution brought the hosts undone repeatedly. The defending champs belatedly clicked into gear and led by 16 points at the break, before ending the game as a contest by the 56th minute with the first two tries of the second half.

The only silver lining was a bittersweet one: a hat-trick in the last 20 minutes from Wests Tigers-bound wing stalwart Ken Maumalo, who was visibly distraught at fulltime in one of the most poignant scenes in Warriors history.

Amid an ocean of poor individual displays, Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita were the linchpins steering the Warriors’ ship into the proverbial iceberg with some of the most incompetent halves play witnessed at NRL level this year.

The absence of the suspended Reece Walsh’s attacking spark could not have been more palpable – and Harris-Tavita’s suspected season-ending torn pec suffered just before halftime may force Nathan Brown to slot the 18-year-old phenom back into the side at five-eighth. Based on Nikorima’s performance today, Sean O’Sullivan should be the No.7.

The Kiwi Test playmaker certainly wasn’t alone in consistently shitting the bed, however, with even Redcliffe Dolphins coach Adam Mogg certain to baulk at the prospect of Wayde Egan and Edward Kosi lining up in his Queensland Cup side next week.

The Storm were uncharacteristically flat and sloppy during the opening 20 minutes, inviting the Warriors’ deep into their territory with errors, penalties and an apparent lack of aggression.

The Warriors failed to capitalise, however, hamstrung by the Z-grade cohesion of their spine.

But the only early scoring was a penalty goal apiece – until Melbourne tore apart the Warriors’ left edge in the 22nd minute.

A poor decision from Harris-Tavita allowed Storm centre Reimis Smith to slice through, before he popped a beautiful ball for winger Dean Ieremia to race away.

Another visit to the Warriors’ end five minutes later saw Brandon Smith crash over for his fifth try in six games from close range.

CHT produced a hit-of-the-year contender on Smith in a possible try-saver in front of the Warriors’ sticks, while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck miraculously held Ieremia up in-goal. But the Storm took an 18-2 lead into halftime thanks to diabolical defensive play from Marcelo Montoya and a woefully out of his depth Edward Kosi, with Josh Addo-Carr sensationally latching onto a Jahrome Huhges grubber and somehow getting the ball down in the corner.

The resilience and character that marked the Warriors’ late-2020 revival was but a distant memory during the second half.

Hughes scored a fortuitous try after magic lead-up work from an unstoppable Harry Grant in the 44th minute. Justin Olam cashed in from an Addo-Carr inside-ball (facilitated by a back-pedalling Kosi) in the 56th.

The Warriors didn’t even resemble a side capable of scoring a try for the first hour of the match, but they landed on the scoreboard through a superb Maumalo finish, following nice play from Tohu Harris, Bailey Sironen, Tuivasa-Sheck and Euan Aitken.

But Grant and Tom Eisenhuth found the try-line to blow the scoreline out to 42-6.

Big Ken made it double with three minutes to go after some second-phase adlib that had been sorely lacking to that point.

Maumalo latched onto a Nikorima kick with 50 seconds on the clock to reach out for the second hat-trick of his career – the first coming on Anzac Day against the Storm.

The 2019 Dally M Winger of the Year departs for the Tigers with 44 tries from 106 games in a seven-season Warriors career, 30 of those four-pointers coming in his last 42 games.

The loss wasn’t unexpected and is not exactly disastrous in terms of their quest for the Top 8. But it’s a weird juncture for Brown and his side.

The departure of Maumalo and reported mid-season arrival of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak shapes as a make-or-break move. The effect of the lionhearted-but-limited Harris-Tavita’s expected season-ending injury – and how Brown now pieces together his spine – is a huge question mark.

The Warriors’ next three games against Newcastle, St George Illawarra and Cronulla all shape as must-win, but they’ll have the opportunity to rebound with the mercurial Walsh back on deck and front-row spearhead Addin Fonua-Blake likely to be much better for his solid 50-minute return against the Storm.

At 5-8 with 11 rounds to go, though, the Warriors are in the familiar position of needing to make up ground in the run home and sweating on the teams around them losing games.

Melbourne Storm 42 (Dean Ieremia, Brandon Smith, Josh Addo-Carr, Jahrome Hughes, Justin Olam, Harry Grant, Tom Eisenhuth tries; Nicho Hynes 7 goals) defeated Warriors 16 (Ken Maumalo 3 tries; Kodi Nikorima 2 goals) at Central Coast Stadium

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