TWL RD 17: SLOPPY WARRIORS CHUM IN THE WATER FOR SLICK SHARKS

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“We’re not fucken learning.”

Jazz Tevaga summed it up in a expletive-laden post-match interview that will likely see FoxSports avoid him after a loss in the future.

But he was bang on.

The Warriors had enough opportunity, periods of dominance and promising play to carve out a season-saving victory against Cronulla, but a lack of direction, poor execution, dismal option-taking and defensive lapses saw them since to another frustrating defeat. The 20-12 scoreline in the Sharks’ favour arguably made it look better than it was for the Warriors.

The Warriors scored the first try of each half and held the field-position advantage for the first 20 minutes of each half. They also kept their try-line intact for the entire second stanza. There were good signs from the new leviathan front-row combo of Addin Fonua-Blake and Matt Lodge, as well as rejuvenated back-rower Eliesa Katoa.

But a 17-minute period in the first half that saw the Sharks score 20 points had the visitors chasing too much of a deficit after the break. The main difference the teams, however, was – in something of a silver lining for Warriors fans already looking ahead to 2022 – veteran halfback Shaun Johnson.

The ex-and-soon-to-be-again Warrior didn’t overplay his hand but was the most influential player on the paddock, forcing five line drop-outs in a performance dripping with calm control. On the other side, Sean O’Sullivan (despite some good moments) and a particularly poor Kodi Nikorima mostly got in dangerman Reece Walsh’s way in another bumbling halves display.

The Warriors enjoyed a pile of early possession on the Sharks’ line but were unable to build pressure. Sean O’Sullivan twice found the in-goal with grubbers only for his teammates to thwart a gift-wrapped line dropout with brain-dead plays.

But the visitors landed on the scoreboard first in the 17th minute from a bit of last-tackle adlib following an aimless Kodi Nikorima bomb. Eliesa Katoa and Rocco Berry kept the ball alive, before Dallin Watene-Zelezniak threaded it through brilliantly for Reece Walsh to dot down.

Cronulla hit back six minutes later, however, as a compressed defensive line left the Warriors’ outside-backs vulnerable.

Regardless, it was a poor read from Berry that allowed Braydon Trindall to send quicksilver centre Connor Tracey over.

Three straight Shaun Johnson grubbers earned results until the Warriors cracked again, five-eighth Trindall bumping off Nikorima to plunge over for his maiden NRL try.

The Warriors were treading water and struggling to stay afloat; the Sharks smelled blood in the water and struck again.

Big Braden Hamline-Uele steaming through a hole close to the try-line and straight over Walsh to score – and following it up with a WWF-style try celebration involving Jack Williams, the best we’ve seen in 2021 so far.

A third try in the last seven minute of the first half beckoned for the Sharks when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck duffed a regulation catch near his own line. But the Sharks opted for a penalty goal attempt with time almost up a couple of plays later, leaving the halftime score at a still-daunting 20-6.

Chances presented themselves regularly for the Warriors after the break, but rarely did they look capable of capitalising. A spate of errors from Jack Murchie inside the Sharks’ half didn’t help.

The breakthrough finally came when O’Sullivan bobbed up on a set play and sent Tuivasa-Sheck over under the posts.

But Johnson settled it down for Cronulla in the ensuring period with three straight forced line dropouts. Though they were unable to find a knockout blow, the Sharks rarely looked in trouble and the Warriors subsequent opportunities to set up a nail-biting finish went begging through a lack of ideas and cohesion.

 

The Warriors may still only be two wins adrift of the eight with eight rounds to go. But the stark reality is this: the Warriors have a 5-11 record (the equal-worst in club history after 16 games, and worst since 2004), have won just one of their last eight and are 13th in potentially the most bottom-heavy competition ever. Games against Penrith and Souths in the next fortnight will snuff out any notion of a late charge for a finals spot they do not deserve.

The drums should be beating for Nathan Brown’s axing, but they won’t because the current management have invested too heavily in him and the club has managed to assemble a good roster moving forward with the affable coach at the helm. But, as was the case at Newcastle, being a good bloke does not necessarily correlate with being a good rugby league coach and, if Brown remains, this ensemble is set to become yet another chapter of wasted talent in the veritable tome of it that makes up Warriors history.

News broke during the game that all 12 NSW-based clubs will be forced to relocated to a Queensland hub midweek – another draining logistical challenge for the club. Perhaps it will trigger some of the resolve this side found under Todd Payten during the second half of 2020 and has lost all semblance of since.

Cronulla Sharks 20 (Connor Tracey, Braydon Trindall, Braden Hamlin-Uele tries; Trindall 4 goals) defeated Warriors 12 (Reece Walsh, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Walsh 2 goals) at Netstrata Jublilee Stadium, Sydney

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