That wasn’t in the script.
Pre-match was all about the Warriors laying down in concrete their burgeoning status as a top-four contender against a weakened, down-on-form heavyweight in front of a sellout Mt Smart crowd on cold, windy and soggy Auckland night.
But as Brad Larking will tell ya, doing a concrete pour in the rain is a no-go – and the Warriors are now starting to garner a reputation as a woefully ineffective wet-weather team after a 28-6 defeat to a rejuvenated South Sydney side. The result blew their biggest previous defeat in 2023 out of the water, a 14-0 loss to Sydney Roosters at the same venue in similar conditions.
The Rabbitohs went along with the popular storyline for the opening quarter, gifting the Warriors piles of possession and, belatedly, the opening try. But the visitors took their rare opportunities – either side of a crucial and very contentious sin-bin call against Addin Fonua-Blake – to grab a halftime lead.
The second stanza could have been plucked out of any number of disappointing Warriors seasons of yore. They were sloppy, couldn’t get any control in the middle, lacked direction and played dumb. Their attack was ludicrously lateral for the conditions and their last-tackle options were dreadful despite the opposition repeatedly showing them the blueprint. Souths were comparatively flawless after the break, outmuscling, outenthusing and outsmarting the home side as they added three tries from brilliant kicks.
Souths had conceded 28-plus points in their previous five games, losing four. But despite the ongoing absence of influential fullback Latrell Mitchell and the late withdrawal of gun centre Campbell Graham, they suddenly looked every bit the premiership threat again. Cody Walker was outstanding, Cameron Murray, Damien Cook and Alex Johnston all class, and Hame Sele, Tevita Tatola and Keaon Koloamatangi all out-ran the Warriors’ top metre-eater, Fonua-Blake.
Undoubtedly the worst the Warriors have dished up under Andrew Webster – and desperately disappointing it occurred in front of such a hardy, hopeful hometown throng. And an eighth straight loss (and 14 from their last 15) against the Rabbitohs.
Congrats to South Sydney. Very under strength but played to the conditions. Had a great wet weather pack who were hungry and blew us off the park
— Dai Henwood (@daihenwood) June 30, 2023
— NRL (@NRL) June 30, 2023
The Warriors completely dominated the opening 20 minutes thanks to spate of penalties against Souths, including several for high tackles. The visitors’ goal-line defence held well and the Warriors found what had work in recent weeks wasn’t transferrable to the slippery conditions and their first batch of raids came up empty.
But the weight of good ball told in the 16th minute after a heads-up short-side play from Wayde Egan and nice hands from Adam Pompey sent Marcelo Montoya over in the corner. Shaun Johnson goaled from touch for 6-0 and the chilly packed house had their cockles warmed.
But six minutes later the Rabbitohs cashed in on their first look at the Warriors’ line. A terrible defensive read from Rocco Berry – with Shaun Johnson having decoy Keaon Koloamatagi well covered – left Dallin Watene-Zelezniak posted and he couldn’t make up the space he’d allowed opposing winger Alex Johnston.
Subsequent chances for the hosts broke down courtesy of dropped balls. Then in the 33rd minute, a controversial flashpoint. Addin Fonua-Blake was deservedly pinged for a high shot right in front of the Warriors’ posts – but 10 minutes in the sin-bin seemed a serious overreaction from referee Ashley Klein.
Souths levelled the scores with the penalty goal then hit the front for the first time after DWZ spilled a high ball. In the ensuing set the Rabbitohs’ everywhere-man Cameron Murray poured through a yawning chasm in the Warriors’ goal-line defence to score for a 12-6 ledger.
Damien Cook’s injection midway through the half had been a game-turner.
Since Cook came on the Bunnies are winning yardage pic.twitter.com/d6BDT1G2we
— Fonzie (@fonzieswarriors) June 30, 2023
A charge-down call (plus accompanying failed challenge) against Wayde Egan early in the second half started a neverending run of things not quite going the Warriors’ way.
Shaun Johnson shot out of the line soon afterwards but couldn’t pick up Cody Walker, who dabbed a kick magnificently over Dallin’s head for Johnston to grab a double and join Steve Menzies as the equal-third-highest tryscorer in premiership history on 180.
Another sliding doors moment unfolded midway through the second half with Watene-Zelezniak blocking a Johnston kick and streaking 70 metres (though not at his usual pace, looking hampered by a lower-leg injury picked up in the first half) to score. But the Bunker review revealed he’d snuck a knock-on in there.
That was as close as the Warriors came in the second 40.
The win was all but sealed with 14 minutes left when Ilias’ deft ad hoc kick to the in-goal was pounced upon by 18-year-old wing debutant Tyrone Munro as the Warriors showed insufficient awareness or desperation.
Munro turned provider with four minutes left, kicking ahead after a sideline burst with stand-in fullback Blake Taafe beating Egan’s valiant attempt to get to the ball first.
Tough game that was lost in the first half. Our last play options were poor & it reminded me of the game in the wet against the Roosters where we struggled on attack. Yes – some tough calls against us, but the score wasn’t close enough to say that was the difference. Flush that…
— Jason Paris (@JasonCParis) June 30, 2023
It’s an unfamiliar ’23 feeling for Warriors supporters – no doubt for the players as well. That was awful. Webster confronts a new test, picking his charges up from a genuinely poor performance for the first time.
Perhaps a rethink of the composition of the bench if no other top-liners become available again by next week. Freddy Lussick went unused, while Tom Ale only got 12 minutes and Bayley Sironen 21 minutes. A heavy load for a starting unit that looked tired and outmatched for the last 50 minutes of the game.
Already leapfrogged by the Rabbitohs, once the bye points kick in the Warriors will also be overtaken by Parramatta – next week’s opponents in Sydney, albeit without Origin players – and will fall behind Canberra unless Gold Coast pull off an upset in the capital as the harsh realities of the tightness of this competition compound any slip-ups.
There’s one certainty to emerge from this clash: Warriors fans will be checking the weather reports in exponentially greater numbers from now on.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 28 (Alex Johnston 2, Cameron Murray, Tyrone Munro, Blake Taafe tries; Lachlan Ilias 4 goals) defeated Warriors 6 (Marcelo Montoya try; Shaun Johnson goal) at Go Media Stadium, Auckland, Friday, June 30th.