Good Knight boys: Warriors fall asleep

AARON LAWTON AT MT SMART STADIUM
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2012
Shaun Johnson
Photosport
DEJECTED: Warriors Omar Slaimankhel (left) and Shaun Johnson after the loss to the Newcastle Knights.

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The Warriors will need a miracle to resurrect their spluttering season after they somehow squandered an 18-point lead to succumb to the Newcastle Knights in a perplexing display last night.

With seven games left in the regular season before last night's contest and requiring roughly five wins to make the playoffs, the Warriors looked like a team that could actually challenge for the title early on.

Despite losing both star winger Manu Vatuvei and forward Steve Rapira to hamstring injuries before kick-off, the hosts started in an inspired fashion, racing out to an 18-0 lead inside 16 minutes over the Wayne Bennett-coached Knights, thanks to some Feleti Mateo brilliance.

But instead of landing the killer punch when they found themselves in a commanding position, they proceeded to inexplicably clock off and blow it, leaving their season on life support.

Still, by the midway point of the second half, the Warriors tenuously clung to a one-point lead and it looked as if they were going to get out of jail free.

But it wasn't to be and when Knights centre Dane Gagai ran the length of the field to score after 62 minutes, giving his side the lead for the first time in the match, the writing was on the wall.

And while the Warriors can conceivably still make the top eight if they suddenly rediscover their mojo, if last night's capitulation is anything to go by, they wouldn't last long in the post-season anyway.

In a mixed first-half performance, the Warriors started strongly and right on the five-minute mark, hooker Nathan Friend waltzed over untouched for his side's first try after being put into space by Mateo.

Almost immediately after the restart, they were in again, this time after Shaun Johnson ran on to a Mateo ball before stepping through several would-be defenders to run over 30 metres to score.

Leading 12-0 after less than 10 minutes, it looked as if only one team had turned up to play.

And, sure enough, it wasn't long before the freewheeling Mateo once again added to the Knights' misery, putting up yet another wonderful pass to send Ben Matulino over.

With the game seemingly in the bag the Warriors went to sleep and the Knights finally made them pay just over 10 minutes before halftime, when Akuila Uate dotted down in the corner.

It was probably the wakeup call they needed and when James Maloney slotted a field goal just before the break after Lewis Brown had narrowly missed out on bagging his side's fourth try, all signs pointed to a comfortable result.

Comfortable, that is, until Jacob Lillyman dropped the ball with a minute left on the clock, paving the way in the ensuing set for Kevin Naiqama to score out wide.

The Warriors needed a strong start to the second half to put the Knights on the canvas. But instead they looked dead on their feet and when Timana Tahu and Gagai both scored tries midway through, it was game over.

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Knights (A Uate, K Naiqama, T Tahu, D Gagai tries; T Roberts 4 gls) Warriors (N Friend, S Johnson, B Matulino tries; J Maloney 3 gls, 1 dg) Ht: 12-19. Crowd: 15,112

- Sunday Star Times

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