Though a short turnaround and a heavy injury toll were certainly factors working against the Warriors, they ultimately tripped over themselves in difficult conditions to crash to a 14-0 loss to a Sydney Roosters outfit that was grappling with similar handicaps.
A try in each half was enough for the gritty Tricolours, who defended gallantly and took rare chances as the Warriors gradually played their way out of the game with 13 errors that increased in frequency during the second stanza.
Supporters bristling from Tuesday’s lopsided officiating display received absolutely no relief despite a hearty 20,000-strong crowd at a soaked and windswept Mt Smart Stadium attempting to tip the scales of rugby league justice.
Roosters knock-ons were farcically ruled backwards, while the Bunker seemed obsessed with seeing things from the Warriors that arguably weren’t there and ignoring infringements from the Roosters that definitely were.
The match hinged on a bewildering non-call at the hour mark. What seemed a blatant shoulder charge from Sitili Tupouniua on Marcelo Montoya was deemed a non-event by the man in the box. Instead of a penalty and a sin-bin, the ruling was a Warriors knock-on – exacerbated by Tupouniua latching onto a grubber to score under the posts for what was effectively the match-sealer.
That said, the Roosters were the better team. Their goal-line defence was magnificent and they managed a difficult encounter like the hardened heavyweights they are purported to be, but haven’t shown enough in 2023.
Roosters handling our too simple attack easily. Meanwhile Teddy and Manu are bouncing out of contact all day
— Fonzie (@fonzieswarriors) April 30, 2023
The absence of Tohu Harris’ and Jazz Tevaga’s grunt and ball-playing was palpable. Attacking options were lacking, while the Warriors were outpointed in all yardage metrics despite enjoying 52 percent possession.
On the plus side in a line-up that featured only four players in the same starting roles as they did in Melbourne, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was one of the Warriors’ best standing in on a tough day to be a fullback, while Addin Fonua-Blake was a workhorse in playing almost a full game at lock and Shaun Johnson’s clinical play for the most part helped keep the hosts in the game.
— NRL (@NRL) April 30, 2023
An early play-the-ball blunder from Marcelo Montoya eventually led to a fourth-minute penalty goal to the Roosters – and the scoreboard remained at 2-0 for more than half an hour.
After initially struggling to hold the Roosters through the middle, the Warriors got on top and dominated territory and possession for much of the first half.
Shaun Johnson’s short kicking game consistently kept the visitors under the pump and earned repeat sets. But despite regularly threatening to post the first try, the Warriors were repeatedly kept at bay.
A lack of attacking variety – particularly as going wide in the conditions was a no-go – from the Warriors contributed to the impasse.
Addin Fonua-Blake and Marata Niukore – named at lock and prop, respectively, in a late reshuffle – revelled in their new positions with industrious displays in the opening 40, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak produced some big plays at both ends.
In a follow-on from Anzac Day, the Warriors could not buy a 50-50 call – unless they went to a Captain’s Challenge to prove they’d been wronged.
— Brendan Bradford (@1bbradfo) April 30, 2023
Frustratingly, a rare Roosters visit to the Warriors end produced the first four-pointer in the 34th minute. Nat Butcher’s determination close to the line one off the ruck was too good for a swag of Warriors defenders.
At 8-0, the Warriors could probably feel that the halftime scoreline was not a fair indication of the contest…but more accurately, it was a indication of the opposing sides’ comparative ability to capitalise on good-ball chances.
But the second half was near enough to a carbon copy.
The Warriors excelled at building pressure but were one-trick ponies on attack, with crash plays off Johnson passes coming agonisingly close to breaking their scoring duck but little else looking capable of breaching the Roosters’ rock-solid defence.
The pivotal Tupouniua call, farcical in light of Brent Naden’s sin-bin and upcoming three-week ban incurred on Saturday, took the wind out of the Warriors’ sails and they never looked capable of playing the requisite catch-up footy.
Broken record areas here but honestly what on earth is going on. Naden got binned for similar last night, Tupouniua gets away with it THEN scores. Pathetic. #NRLWarriorsRoosters
— Nick Bewley (@nickbewley) April 30, 2023
Disappointing, almost certainly their most disappointing collective performance of the season, but far from disastrous. For the most part the Warriors’ defence was sound given the volume of positional switches and there was never any sense of throwing in the towel.
Andrew Webster’s key tenets were all still there…the execution and flash was perhaps just off through a combination of dreadful conditions and a short build-up compounded by a packed casualty ward.
The upshot is the Warriors are eighth with a 5-4 record and a negative points differential, in the middle of a six-team logjam on 10 points. It’s looking increasingly like being a white-knuckle ride to the Top 8 promised land.
But the last leg of their triumvirate of heavyweight showdowns in a (ridiculous) 11-day stretch in Magic Round seems winnable. The Panthers have lost two straight – the latter to the 0-7 Tigers – after a jammy win in Newcastle and look vulnerable.
And that’s one of the best parts about the 2023 Warriors: you know they’re a big chance no matter whoever runs out the tunnel, wherever the tunnel is and whenever they’re frogmarched down the tunnel by poor scheduling.
Enjoy your bye, by the way, Storm?
Roosters 14 (Nat Butcher, Sitili Tupouniua tries; Joesph Suaalii 3 goals) defeated Warriors 0 at Mt Smart Stadium, Sunday, April 30.