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There’s few acceptable excuses for giving up a 16-0 lead and losing. There’s even fewer for coughing up a 16-0 lead when your finals chances depend on you winning. But the hapless Warriors line-up that was trotted out against equally-desperate Canberra in Mackay could almost be forgiven for their horrific collapse to lose 28-16 due to coach Nathan Brown’s brain-bending selection policy.

Fans, pundits and any half-conscious rugby league follower were shocked by the late call-up for perpetual dud Kane Evans at the expense of consistently lionhearted Jazz Tevaga on the bench. Not to mention the retention of run-shy, ‘defensive specialist’ Bayley Sironen. The recall of teenage rookie Rocco Berry at centre after six weeks out for somewhat-pedestrian-but-decent Adam Pompey at centre was another gamble that failed to pay off.

The baffling calls – along with some gear-grinding incompetence from usually reliable performers, injuries to key men and theatrics from penalty-thirsty Raiders players – brought the Warriors undone in an agonising collapse you could just see coming as soon as the Green Machine made their way onto the scoreboard by Mt Smart discard Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad two minutes before halftime.


The Warriors made a blistering start that rolled on for the majority of the first half – realistically, they could have been uncatchable by halftime.

A brilliant burst from Wayde Egan set up an incredible 65-metre try after just 40 seconds.

The game settled into a arm-wrestling pattern until the 19th minute, when Bailey Simonsson bungled a superb Sean O’Sullivan kick and Berry pounced to score.

Six minutes later, Sebasitan Kris was all at sea under a Chad Townsend high ball and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak set upon the bouncing ball to put the Warriors 16-0 up.

But several subsequent attacking sets and scoring opportunities went begging over the next 10 minutes.

The Raiders struck a crucial blow two minutes out from the break, when interchange Nicoll-Klokstad charged onto a dummy-half pass on the last and muscled his way over.

The Warriors never looked in it during the second half.

A listless start after the break was punished less than three minutes in, Kris crashing through courtesy of a dismal right-edge read from the Warriors.

Canberra belatedly locked up the scoreboard – after dominating the middle of the park with Evans and Bunty Afoa battling in Addin Fonua-Blake and Matt Lodge’s stead – with 15 minutes to go with a 50-metre beauty.

DWZ stayed infield and was brushed off by Jordan Rapana, who found Kris on the inside to score.

The Warriors somehow hung in the contest, despite the loss of Egan and halfback Chad Townsend to injuries, but they never looked capable of breaking the deadlock. Their kicking game fell apart and the team was rudderless.

Their best chance went begging when Bunty Afoa was forced to play first receiver on the last in front of the Raiders’ sticks, before Sironen put in a woeful kick. A subsequent Reece Walsh field goal faded way out to the left.

The obsession with Canberra players staying down like absolute cats would also proved decisive, attracting penalty after weak penalty for nothing incidents.

Almost inevitably, the Raiders destroyed the Warriors’ left edge again on a last-tackle raid that saw Rapana blaze down the sideline and step inside Walsh to score.

Rubbing salt into the wound, Hudson Young scored with time up on the clock after Walsh fumbled a bomb.

A grating way for it to finish for tight-rope-walking Warriors fans. To put themselves in a match-winning position they would surrender so meekly with so much at stake was a bitter pill to swallow.

But again, it was hard not to shovel a significant portion of the blame back at Brown’s feet. Evans should never play NRL again – for any club – after what he dished up against Cronulla. He has been awful all year. A tackle-a-holic lock with few attacking qualities (who also misses 11 tackles) in Sironen is essentially worthless in the modern game. No Warriors edge has been as easily exposed  this season as the right was with the underdone Berry all at sea.

And it again begs the question: is Brown actually capable of doing anything with the undeniably strong roster he will have at his disposal from next season? A propensity to give players clearly detrimental to what a team is trying to achieve – despite repeated, glaring red flags – multiple chances at the expense of proven performers is deeply concerning. It’s Matt Elliott-esque in its execution, yet I can’t recall even the Warriors’ oddball-est coach coming up with so many selection head-scratchers, particularly when so much was on the line.

Who knows what Brown or the Warriors will dish up next week in a last-round dead-rubber against Gold Coast?

Canberra Raiders 28 (Sebastian Kris 2, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Hudson Young tries; Rapana 4 goals) defeated Warriors 16 (Sean O’Sullivan, Rocco Berry, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak tries; Reece Walsh 2 goals) at BB Print Stadium, Mackay


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Categories: Previews + Reviews, WARRIORS NEWS

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