The Warriors’ winter of woe continues, with another frustrating NRL defeat on Sunday.
They had plenty of chances to win this match, but instead were left with another ‘if only’ scenario, falling 20-12 to the Sharks.
The result leaves them marooned near the bottom of the ladder (13th), with five defeats on the bounce and only one win in two months.
It means their finals hopes are all but gone, with matches against the Panthers and Rabbitohs in the next two weeks.
It’s a shame – as this Warriors team has undoubted potential – but the patchy display against Cronulla summed up their season.
The Warriors were their own worst enemies. They completed only two sets in the final 20 minutes of the first half, allowing the Sharks, who were 16/16 in that time, to score three unanswered tries.
That proved the difference, with the Warriors arguably the dominant team outside that period.
Shaun Johnson controlled the game superbly, forcing five goal-line dropouts, while the Warriors playmakers struggled. Reece Walsh was busy but had a mostly forgettable return to NRL action with some crucial mistakes, while senior half Kodi Nikorima had a quiet game.
Coming off the tough defeat to the Dragons last Friday, the Warriors’ anxiety showed early. They botched a grubber, then later conceded consecutive seven-tackle sets, when a Sharks’ goal-line dropout looked more likely, as Bayley Sironen tried to force a ball that was already dead, then Nikorima was caught in front of the kicker.
But they got through that sticky period to take a deserved lead. Rocco Berry and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak showed good composure to create space where there wasn’t much, with Reece Walsh first to the resultant grubber.
The Warriors couldn’t consolidate their early lead though, as Connor Tracey slipped through a jagged right-edge defence. But the circumstances were typical of recent weeks, as Sean O’Sullivan’s successful charge down was negated immediately, with Matt Lodge penalised for accidental offside.
That sparked the Sharks, and all of the Warriors’ good work was undone in the final 12 minutes of the half, where – unbelievably – they didn’t have a single set in possession.
Cronulla took the lead off the back of four consecutive goal-line sets, with Johnson’s fifth-tackle options creating havoc. Walsh coughed up one of his grubbers, before Braydon Trindall powered through from close range to score.
Cronulla were immediately gifted another opportunity, as Walsh sent his kickoff over the sideline, and Braden Hamlin-Uele exposed some flimsy defence to score.
The Warriors worked hard to create momentum early in the second half, but errors continued to cruel, with Ben Murdoch-Masila’s first-tackle knock-on after a hard-earned penalty a glaring example.
They needed a break, but the recent refereeing inconsistency was underlined when Sharks’ winger Sione Katoa avoided the sinbin, despite a blatant swinging arm on Sironen.
Consecutive errors from the unfortunate Jack Murchie stalled their momentum, but a successful captain’s challenge led to an impressive Warriors’ try, with deception and a precise O’Sullivan pass creating a hole up the middle for Tuivasa-Sheck to cross in the 57th minute.
The Warriors should have got another try back 11 minutes later, but three chasers had strayed in front of the kicker.
They didn’t go close again, despite some promising moments, as the Sharks defence held firm.
Sharks 20 (Connor Tracey, Braydon Trindall, Braden Hamlin-Uele tries; Trindall 3 cons, pen)
Warriors 12 (Reece Walsh, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ties; Reece Walsh 2 cons)
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