The Warriors are on a six-match losing streak – the equal-worst of any team this season (last-placed Canterbury lost its first six) – heading into Saturday’s daunting NRL Round 19 assignment against South Sydney on the Sunshine Coast.
But after bottling a string of tight games against low-quality opponent, the team and the fanbase were buoyed by a gutsy display against heavyweights Penrith on Sunday. The Warriors played without a bench for the entire second half yet only went down 30-16 and fought bravely until the final whistle.
Nevertheless, Nathan Brown’s injury-stricken outfit has slipped to 14th on the ladder with a 5-12 record. Only in 2004 has the club won as few games after 17 outings in a season.
The Warriors are freefalling in the Top 8 Finish market, blowing out to $11.60 after their latest defeat. Cronulla ($1.70) and Canberra ($2.04) are the favourites to clinch the two finals spots still up for grabs. Curiously, the Warriors remain on the ninth line of premiership betting at $81 – ahead of the likes of seventh-placed St George Illawarra ($151) and the eighth-placed Sharks ($101).
Yet in an NRL competition where the top six is clearly defined while the chasing pack continue to trip and stumble over themselves, the Warriors are just four points adrift of eighth. Their for-and-against (-93) is also decent given their win-loss record.
An upset of the Rabbitohs this weekend would seem highly unlikely. The Warriors, missing key quartet Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tohu Harris, Wayde Egan and Rocco Berry, are $5.15 outsiders. But their remaining schedule over the last six rounds– exclusively against teams currently eighth or lower, the Tigers, Sharks, Bulldogs, Broncos, Raiders and Titans – leaves the door ever-so-slightly ajar for a miracle run to the playoffs.
The following list of amazing late-season charges in the NRL era can provide some inspiration – kicking off with a couple of memorable Warriors revivals:
- The Warriors’ most recent top-four finish came in unlikely circumstances, slumping to a 4-8 record in 2007 on the back of a six-match losing streak. Ivan Cleary’s charges turned the corner, however, losing just two of their remaining 12 games to land fourth. Though they exited the playoffs in straight sets against Parramatta and North Queensland, the Warriors’ rally laid the platform for their success under Cleary over the ensuing four seasons.
- Another tardy start for the Warriors – 13th at the end of Round 16 of their ’08 campaign – gave rise to one of the most cherished chapters in the club’s history. The enigmatic New Zealanders won eight of their last 10, including victories over heavyweights Melbourne, Brisbane and Cronulla, to land in eighth spot. They weren’t finished there, pulling off a history-making qualifying final upset of the table-topping Storm on their way to the preliminary final, where their run was halted by Manly.
- Parramatta’s mind-blowing surge to the 2009 Grand Final is the modern benchmark for late-season revivals. Flailing in 14th with a miserable 5-1-10 record at the end of Round 18, the Eels stormed into playoffs contention on the back of a seven-match winning run inspired by six straight man-of-the-match performances from mercurial fullback Jarryd Hayne, who came from nowhere to win the Dally M Medal. Despite a 37-0 defeat to St George Illawarra in Round 26, the blue-and-golds finished eighth and turned the tables on the minor premier Dragons in week one of the finals, before disposing of the Titans and Bulldogs. The Parramatta juggernaut’s two-month stampede stopped just short on grand final day, outlasted 23-16 by Melbourne.
- Inaugural NRL premiers Brisbane suffered a dramatic fall from grace during their title defence, winning just one of their first 10 games in 1999. The shock retirement of captain and linchpin Allan Langer – along with a host of injuries to seasoned campaigners – compounded the star-studded Broncos’ woes, but they turned their campaign around with a stirring 12-match unbeaten run. A gripping final-round win over heavyweights Canterbury sealed eighth spot, and although they were dispatched 42-20 by minor premiers Cronulla a week later, the patched-up Broncos’ revival holds a cherished place in the club’s narrative.
- The Raiders were widely written off as a finals contender as the 2010 premiership marched into July, sporting a dismal 5-10 record. But the Terry Campese-led Green Machine won eight of their last nine – including victories over top-two finishers St George Illawarra and Penrith – to keep alive the club’s record of not missing the finals two years in a row since 1986. The seventh-placed Raiders upset the Panthers again in week one of the playoffs being dipping out courtesy of a heart-breaking 26-24 semi-final loss to Wests Tigers.
- Mired in 12th after 15 rounds of the ’05 NRL competition, the effervescent Tigers pieced together an eight-match winning streak that claimed the scalps of four eventual finalists, plus both of the previous year’s grand finalists. The joint venture countered a lack of size in the forwards and inexperience across the board with an exhilarating brand of attacking football – led by Benji Marshall, Scott Prince and Brett Hodgson – to surge to its first finals series in fourth place. The Tim Sheens-coached Tigers rode their wave of momentum all the way to the Grand Final, where they overpowered the Cowboys 30-16 for the unlikeliest premiership triumph of the modern era.
- The Cowboys sat in 13th with just six wins on the board, six points adrift of the finals, with six rounds of the 2013 season left. But any team with a No.6 like Johnathan Thurston in their ranks can never be counted out, and the northerners won all their remaining games – beginning with a 30-12 thrashing of ladder-leading Souths – to snatch eighth spot. The incomparable Thurston racked up 12 of a possible 18 points to surge to equal-second in the Dally M Medal standings, but the Cowboys were tipped out in week one of the finals via a controversial 20-18 loss to Cronulla.
The key for the Warriors is replicating the resolve and character they showed against the Panthers and delivering similar when they face teams at their level. Some late-game composure – their Achilles heel in 2021 – and a halt to the squad’s injury crisis is also required.