Almost a year after Shaun Johnson scored one of the greatest individual tries of 2011 at Suncorp Stadium, he again sat disconsolate in the Warriors dressing room after the Brisbane Broncos conjured up another narrow victory to damage their play-off aspirations.
A Peter Wallace field goal separated the teams last August and on Friday night Corey Parker's superior goal kicking – and a last-ditch tackle by Kiwis international Josh Hoffman on Manu Vatuvei – proved decisive as the Broncos held on to secure a 10-8 victory.
Johnson supplied a try assist for Kevin Locke – the Warriors first try-scorer – but it was ultimately little consolation as he languished in a venue that has not been kind to the 21-year-old playmaker.
While five-eighth James Maloney had more cause to be upset after he missed all three of his goal kicks, his halves partner takes losses harder than most.
"We really have to start winning those ones. It's frustrating, it's pretty crap.
"We were pretty good defensively, it's just our attack was off," said Johnson, who might rue his reluctance to target Ben Te'o and Alex Glenn with high kicks as the second rowers played out of position in the centres to cover injuries.
Instead the Broncos were able to handle the absence of Jack Reed – who was ruled out before the game – and Dale Copley who limped off with a leg injury in the 21st minute.
The Warriors had a better completion rate, made more metres, line breaks and tackle busts; they forced five line drop-outs to the Broncos none and outscored their hosts two tries to one – but could not avoid another agonising loss and are likely to drop out of the top eight.
A determined defensive effort protected their line once Corey Norman forced his own grubber kick in the seventh minute but their offensive game was not as accurate before they went perilously close to construct a match-winning play after time elapsed.
When Vatuvei stooped to collect a Johnson cross kick on the right flank the Warriors fans erupted but the big wing was lowered by Hoffman before he reached full tilt – a massive relief for the fullback.
"It was a bit scary towards the end. It was a bit nerve-wracking. I was a bit scared facing Manu." Hoffman said.
"All I heard was the crowd roaring. Seeing big Manu coming at me was a bit scary.
"I was just hoping I didn't get bumped off. I just had to take his legs out, the big fella."
Inevitably, Vatuvei endured his own cringeworthy moments iN his first appearance since he scored a double against Penrith in round 14.
He was safe under a predictable aerial bombardment but put his teammates under pressure by straying in front of the kicker at a restart – Parker nailed his first penalty after the Broncos swept downfield; Vatuvei then turned over possession in front of his posts with a needless offload at the start of a set.
Encouragingly Vatuvei reported no problems with his knee and in-form centre Konrad Hurrell is expected to return next Saturday from an ankle injury.
Locke was impressive for the Warriors, complementing his try with six tackle breaks and 146m of go forward though the contribution of incumbent Kiwis fullback Hoffman – 158m, four tackle breaks and the hit on Vatuvei – gives Stephen Kearney a welcome dilemma heading into the October's trans-Tasman test in Townsville.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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