Manly Sea Eagles too good for NZ Warriors
A rudderless Warriors may have lost to the Sea Eagles in an arm wrestle today and dropped out of the eight but there is no sense of panic in the camp, coach Andrew McFadden says.
The Warriors, who were without playmaker Shaun Johnson and explosive back rower Feleti Mateo, were beaten 22-12 by the Sea Eagles in front of a bumper crowd of more than 19,000 at Mt Smart Stadium.
If the crowd came for a intense game then they got it but, after holding out for 60 minutes, the floodgates opened and the Sea Eagles showed the Mt Smart Stadium fortress is nothing of the sort.
It was always going to be tight.
Manly in their past six games have held teams to 16 points or less on all but one occasion and across the season have only leaked an average of only three tries per match. The Warriors, on the other hand are all about the attack.
The Warriors were thrown early when injury ruled out their main playmaker in Johnson - who has not missed a match since the end of 2012.
Johnson suffered an injury to his groin at the team's final training on Saturday and was replaced in the starting lineup by Thomas Leuluai with 19-year-old debutant Tui Lolohea coming onto the interchange bench.
Johnson is expected to be fit to play next weekend.
The loss of Johnson was noticeable in the Warriors playing style with Chad Townsend unable to match Johnson's tactical kicking prowess.
The Warriors could also be called unlucky - the team had three tries disallowed.
Coach Andrew McFadden said he was pleased with his team's effort given the last minute changes to the team and the quality of the opposition.
''We gave ourselves a chance . . . we got close, but not close enough. We didn't take our opportunities and the opposition did. I'm not disheartened by their efforts. I'm disappointed with the result but there is a bit for us to work off there.
''I'm still really happy with the players efforts considering the circumstances. We lost Shaun overnight essentially and I thought the guys that stepped in did a great job and we gave ourselves a chance.
"They are a quality team so a few bounces of the ball, if we had got over the line, maybe things could have been different.''
Captain Simon Mannering agreed.
''We definitely had our chances and got close a couple of times there in the second half but probably shot ourselves in the foot too many times coming out of trouble.
"They are a quality team and when they put their plays on, they put them on 100 per cent, run their right lines and at the right time and put you under pressure, and defensively they work very hard for each other.''
Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey said he thought the loss of Johnson had rattled the Warriors but praised his side's efforts.
''I thought it was one of our best defensive efforts this year. They are a tough, strong physical side and they really took it to us today.''
It hadn't been all Manly's way though.
From the buzzer Thomas Leuluai slotted straight in and a move, that looked like Johnson was on the park saw Hurrell muscle over after just two minutes after an early mistake by the Sea Eagles. Chad Townsend, having been handed the kicking duties, converted.
Manly barely crossed into the Warriors half in the first 10 minutes.
Again the penalty count was heavily in favour of the Warriors in the early stages of the game allowing the Auckland-based side to have a large portion of possession, but the Warriors tactical kicking was lacking and with Manly making quick play of the ball the Warriors, after about 20 minutes, started to look less composed.
Consistent pressure and the Warriors giving away a penalty under their posts saw Cheyse Blair dive over in the corner after 19 minutes despite the efforts of Leuluai.
Kieran Foran was causing all sorts of headaches for the Warriors but it was Kiwi wing Peta Hiku who scored in the corner after outgunning Manu Vatuvei for pace after 30 minutes.
Daly Cherry-Evans completed a beautiful 40/20 to put the Sea Eagles straight back down in the Warriors half soon after and a mistake by Sam Tomkins saw Manly get a scrum feed. Only a subsequent mistake by Cherry-Evans relieved the pressure on the Warriors.
The teams went to the break locked in an arm wrestle with possession all but equal, and both having made plenty of tackles. The Warriors were only completing 60 per cent of their sets by half time, the Sea Eagles a touch over 70 per cent.
The impact of Ben Matulino was noticeable after the break with an offload that looked to have sent Ben Henry over, before it was ruled forward, minutes later he was involved in a tackle that gave the Warriors a penalty.
The impetus saw Vatuvei muscle over the try line but he was held up by Cherry-Evans.
The Warriors continually hammered the Sea Eagles line but the fortress-like defence stood the test.
The nail in the coffin for the Warriors was after 65 minutes when Hiku seemed to glide over for his second try. The Warriors seem to all but give up after that with Cherry-Evans jumping on the end of a slick move and dotting down under the posts.
No-one told captain Mannering though who scored and all but sprinted back to half way to get his team back on the board, but it was all too little too late.
Toovey said he wasn't allowing his team's mind to drift to thoughts of a minor premiership.
''It's so close. If we lose the next two games we would be outside the top four, lose three and you are outside the eight. It's a tightrope.''
The Warriors play the Raiders next weekend.
Sea Eagles 22 (C. Blair, P.Hiku 2, D. Cherry-Evans tries J.Lyon 3 conversions) Warriors 12 (K. Hurrell, S.Mannering tries C.Townsend 2 conversion). HT: Manly 10-6.