TWL RD 23: WARRIORS BUCKED TO THE BRINK BY BRONCOS

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Before we get into the Warriors’ agonising 24-22 loss to Brisbane, let’s clear one thing up. Despite what the dud Channel Nine commentary team (which NZ viewers bizarrely were switched to three minutes in after Warren Smith and co. kicked things off) claimed, we can still finish in the Top 8.

Warriors wins in the last two rounds over Canberra and Gold Coast, combined with a Titans loss to Newcastle next week, a Raiders loss to Sydney Roosters in the last round, and Cronulla losing to the Broncos and Melbourne (as well as the likely scenario St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers lose one of their games, or win both without a big for-and-against swing) would see us squeak in.

But geez a win today would’ve made things a lot less mathematical – and the Warriors bottled it against an erratic-but-committed Anthony Milford-inspired Broncos outfit.

The visitors fought back from a 12-point deficit to claim the lead, came from behind to level up with 18 minutes to go, and scored late to set up possible golden point. But the Warriors’ inability to defuse kicks, along with Reece Walsh’s errant goalkicking, cruelled their hopes of a vital victory against a team playing only for pride.

The Warriors scored five tries to four but Walsh – a key contributor to their first and last tries – hooked four of his conversion attempts in almost identical fashion, while his valiant last-ditch two-point field goal attempt slid wide.

When continuity has been such an issue for this team throughout 2021, Nathan Brown’s non-enforced changes to his Team List Tuesday 17 arguably back-fired. Chad Townsend had some good moments after coming in as a late inclusion but lacked the control and leadership the Warriors would hope for from a veteran halfback and they would have arguably been better off with the steady, lionhearted Sean O’Sullivan, who made a big contribution to the three-match winning streak.

Meanwhile, the baffling decision to leave out Kodi Nikorima did not pay off. Starting Jazz Tevaga instead of Egan at hooker offered little, Nikorima’s bench replacement, Jack Murchie, did nothing, and Tevaga had limited time as a middle-forward when the Warriors desperately needed his engery and impact there.

The first half was a mess from a Warriors perspective – and they were unlucky not to find themselves further behind than 12-4 at the break.

Errors, penalties and defensive misses crept in early. Fortunately, the Broncos were unable to capitalise.

But the hosts got the on the board in the 21st minute after Reece Walsh overshot his jump to catch a bomb in front his posts, with Xavier Coates following through to dot down.

A Dallin Watene-Zelezniak error proved costly soon afterwards. Anthony Milford rang rings around Adam Pompey before firing off a pass for Coates to zip in for his second out wide.

But on the Warriors’ next possession, Walsh dragged his side back into the contest.

The 19-year-old fullback’s searing dummy-half break put the Warriors hot on attack, while he and Pompey produced nice touches on a backline sweep as Marcelo Montoya crossed in the corner.

Peta Hiku came up with a massive play to hold Milford up in the in-goal and almost had the Warriors’ second a minute later following a helter-skelter last-tackle play featuring three kicks.

Bunker official – if you can call him that – Henry Perenara dubiously ruled a knock-on against Hiku, then came up with an absolute howler when the Broncos used their captain’s challenge to dispute a lost ball decision. The ex-Warrior was rightly panned on Twitter for his incompetence.

The Warriors came out firing in the second half and surged into the lead after less than 10 minutes of the second half.

Nice play from Chad Townsend and a grubber from DWZ allowed Hiku to toe ahead and plant the ball brilliantly in the 43rd minute.

Six minutes later man of the moment Josh Curran hit a beautiful flat ball from Wayde Egan near the line to crash over.

But the Warriors failed to consolidate their advantage and build pressure.

Then in the 56th minute, Milford chipped over the top for Tesi Nui, who kicked ahead. Watene-Zelezniak froze when the bouncing ball was there for the taking and Albert Kelly swooped, racing away for an 18-14 lead.

Some trademark Hiku magic – getting outside his man, pulling in a winger, slipping a flick pass – sent Dallin over for an atoning, equalising try.

The Broncos’ kicking game again terrorised the Warriors’ back-three in the 72nd minute, however.

Corey Oates batted back a Milford bomb, Herbie Farnworth volleyed the ball back on the inside and Milford hared through to score the decisive four-pointer.

Facing a six-point deficit and down to almost their last roll of the dice, Walsh took the bull by the horns in the 78th minute and went for a blindside grubber from dummy-half on the last.

Euan Aitken pounced for a highlycontroversial try after competing with Coates for the loose ball.

But Walsh pulled his conversion to the right of the posts yet again, while his booming field goal shot with time running out was just out to the left.

There is still life, but hope has dwindled. Let’s just hope Browny and his charges realise there is still a chance and give it a red-hot crack against the Raiders next Friday.

Brisbane Broncos 24 (Xavier Coates 2, Albert Kelly, Anthony Milford tries; Herbie Farnworth 4 goals) defeated Warriors 22 (Marcelo Montoya, Peta Hiku, Josh Curran, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Euan Aitken tries; Reece Walsh goal) at Suncorp Stadium

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