Just when you think you’ve seen it all from the Warriors over 27 tortured seasons, the class of 2021 conjures a loss so diabolical, so unbelievable and so vital in the context of their finals hopes that it seems inevitable the sting of it will stay with every supporter who had the misfortune of witnessing it.
The 19-18 golden point defeat at the hands of St George Illawarra was the fifth time (!) this year the Warriors have lost a game after leading or being level inside the final five minutes. It was also the third occasion Nathan Brown’s charges have been pipped by a field with 45 seconds of regulation time left or later.
But those numbers don’t tell the full tale of how they lost the unloseable.
After a slow and sloppy start – including conceding the first try to Ben Hunt in the 21st minute – the Warriors dug in impressively, grafting their way to an 18-6 advantage over the next half-hour. A slick and sneaky solo effort from Wayde Egan opened their account, while the hooker was also instrumental in subsequent tries to Eliesa Katoa and Bunty Afoa.
Further points to really put the foot on the Saints’ throat failed to materialise, but it didn’t seems to matter. The Warriors were in control, defending superbly and apparently cruising towards a crucial victory.
Then it all imploded.
Ex-Warrior Gerard Beale crossed out wide in the 70th minute and Jack Bird won a shambolic race to a grubber four minutes later, with rookie winger Edward Kosi’s lack of experience and gumption crucial to both Dragons tries. A bizarre field goal attempt in between those four-pointers from Chad Townsend – when the Warriors were up by eight, though he later admitted he thought the lead was only six points – provided a seven-tackle set platform for Bird’s try.
That was a mere entree, however, as Kosi struggled to clean up a loose ball with a minute to go, instead kicking it back towards his own try-line and pouncing on it just inside the field of play. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – superb throughout the match – was barrelled by the Saints’ defence on the next play and, like it was almost predestined, Cody Ramsey crossed out wide just before the hooter.
Corey Norman failed to convert all three tries, leaving the scores tied and sending it golden point. But the five-eighth put an otherwise forgettable performance behind him to pilot the winning field goal through with two minutes of extra-time remaining – after a slew of mind-boggling Warriors turnovers offered the Saints opportunity after opportunity to win it.
Positives came in the form of strong individual displays from RTS, Marcelo Montoya, mid-season arrival Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Katoa, while Bayley Sironen had arguably his best game for the club. Townsend also showed stacks of courage to play on with a shoulder injury from a late, unpunished Tariq Sims hit in the opening stages.
But looking on the bright side after that abomination is purely the domain of the most forgiving, optimistic Warriors fans. Barring a late-season miracle that we’ve wished to in far too many campaigns, the Warriors’ finals hopes are down the tubes and there’s little more to look forward to than 2022 and Shaun Johnson’s return.