TWL RD 25: WARRIORS PIGGYBACK TITANS INTO FINALS WITH LIMP FINISH TO AWFUL CAMPAIGN

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The 2021 season and Nathan Brown era started in super-promising fashion via a gritty 19-6 victory over Gold Coast Titans. It ended in a pathetic, season-worst 44-0 defeat to the same opponents, who in turn tore eighth spot away from Cronulla Sharks ahead of the NRL finals.

For the Warriors, it likely means a 12th-place finish, slipping below St George Illawarra on for-and-against but saved from bottom-four ignominy by Wests Tigers’ horrific loss to Canterbury.

About all there was to cling to for Warriors fans in a completely listless, aimless performance was some fire-and-brimstone displayed inside the last 20 minutes – which resulted in firstly Jazz Tevaga, and then Matt Lodge and perennial meathead Kane Evans (along with Gold Coast’s Jarrod Wallace) spending 10 minutes in the bin after twin blow-ups.

When it came down to footy, though, it all Titans, who started the match knowing they needed to win by 11+ points to squeak into the playoffs. It looked a given at 16-0 at halftime and was virtually assured 13 minutes into the second half at 26-blot, before the home side went on a victory lap in the last 15 minutes to smash their club record for biggest winning margin by six points. The rout also represented the first time the Titans have held an opponent to nil since 2013.

On the Warriors’ side of the fence, they were subjected to the equal-seventh biggest loss of all time and were held to zero points for the 10th time in their history.

The Warriors were quick out of the blocks, but a first-minute long-range try was foiled by Euan Aitken’s fumble and Matt Lodge also lost the ball reaching out for the line.

The Titans raced to a 12-0 lead through a couple of dubious put-downs that the Bunker seemed very anxious to push through without further inspection.

David Fifita pushed the hosts 16-0 in front in the 32nd minute – but it could easily have been more with the Warriors struggling to complete half of their sets, producing little of substance with the ball in hand and losing Aitken to injury.

Fifita had a double less than two minutes into the second half and Brian Kelly effectively sealed the result and the final spot in the 53rd minute.

The Warriors were blatantly robbed of a try when Josh Curran put Dallin Watene-Zelezniak over in the corner, only to have it pulled back for a harsh forward-pass call. Ashley Klein did the visitors few favours all afternoon.

The match exploded when  Phillip Sami roughed up Rocco Berry after taking him into touch near the Titans’ line. Despite Sami’s ongoing, goading histrionics – and a melee involving about half the players from both teams – Tevaga was the only player binned after levelling the smug Titans winger.

The second brouhaha a couple of minutes later garnered a few more sanctions.

Lodge got 10 for the late hit that sparked the incident, Wallace went for his fiery reaction to Lodge’s tackle and the incomparable Evans – already on report for raising BOTH elbows to the face of a Titans defender – copped a stint for attempting to throw fists at Wallace.

With 12 on 10, the Titans ran in a couple of tries and put on another crowd-pleaser when the rivals were back at the full compliment less than two minutes from fulltime.

While Reece Walsh endured another deeply unhappy game on attack, fellow fullback rookie Jayden Campbell had an absolute field goal for the Titans with two tries and a game-high 254 metres.

There genuinely was not a Warriors player who could be said to have performed satisfactorily.

The pending bottom-four finish will be the Warriors’ fourth in seven seasons. And after finishing with an 8-16 record, it’s nothing less than they deserve. But to do it in a such a weak premiership is especially galling. The bottom 10 teams are a galaxy below the top six quality-wise – and we finished in the bottom half of that dismal bunch.

Fans and pundits have come out of the woodwork to make excuses for Brown and the club despite some deeply worrying signs of decay. Here’s a few more numbers to illustrate the state they are in:

-The Warriors have finished with a worse win-loss record just twice since 1995 – in 2004 (6-18) and 2017 (7-17). Compare the optimism levels after those seasons to the free ride the team, the coach and the administration are getting at present.
-The Titans’ eight-try romp gave the Warriors 112 four-pointers conceded for the season – the third-most in their history and most since the calamitous 2004 campaign. The season total of 622 points conceded is also the worst since ’04.
-The Warriors’ final -181 points differential is the fourth-worst in their history and the worst since 2009…a season when the team had genuine reasons to struggle so badly.

There’s no doubt there’s been some tough setbacks for Nathan Brown to grapple with in his first season as the Warriors’ head coach. But I’d argue, with an inferior squad, Todd Payten had more obstacles and did light years better in the role as a caretaker in 2020.

The backbone of last year is gone. The 5-13 start was briefly masked by a three-game winning streak against poor opposition and has been glaringly exposed in the last three rounds by equally shabby sides.

Brown will stay on for at least the bulk of 2022. The club has a chip on its shoulder about having had so many coaches and there’s not exactly any shining candidates to take over. But everything at present points to another pointless, fruitless, Australia-based assault next year if the same standards are accepted. The sheen of the future optimism factors we were hanging our hat on weeks ago has dulled significantly,

It’ll be a fascinating summer. The current pieces that are in place, plus Shaun Johnson and Aaron Pene and minus Peta Hiku and a couple of fringe guys, does not exactly point to the top-four trajectory TWL was suggesting after the euphoria of SJ’s signing announcement.

But we’ll be back, of course, in March feeling far more hopeful than we do right now – because as Warriors fans, that’s what we’re conditioned for.

Gold Coast Titans 44 (Jayden Campbell 2, David Fifita 2, Mitch Rein, Brian Kelly, Patrick Herbert, Moeaki Fotuaika tries; Jamal Fogarty 6 goals) defeated Warriors 0 at Cbus Super Stadium

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