Warriors' inconsistency leaves Friend mystified
Nathan Friend shed four kilograms while tackling his heart out, yet still looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders after the New Zealand Warriors handed Cronulla their first NRL win of the season on a platter.
The workaholic Queenslander was among the last players to leave a sombre dressing room at Remondis Stadium after the Sharks' 37-6 victory on Saturday night - not out of the ordinary as the qualified personal trainer adheres to a meticulous post-match routine.
It revolves around restoring the "energy sources", a regime involving the absorption of glucose and protein, the hooker said, his body language suggesting that was a more palatable process than the dissection of another perplexing Warriors performance.
"The body is fine, I don't require any ice. I've got a few bumps and bruises . . . it's more the pride that's injured more than anything else," said Friend, who could at least hold his head high after contributing another sterling defensive effort.
Initially credited with 71 tackles by the Fox Sports commentary team, the figure was later revised down to 65 - 30 clear of captain Simon Mannering.
The accuracy and urgency of the Warriors also regressed after wins over North Queensland and the Wests Tigers, a frustrating tendency that continues to undermine the club's credentials as a genuine premiership force.
"It was a pretty poor performance with our execution," said a dejected Friend, who averaged 47 tackles per game in 2013. "After our performance the last couple of weeks we thought we were moving forward and then we come out and we just didn't control the ball."
The 33-year-old debuted for the Warriors in 2012 but was still mystified by the Warriors' chronic inconsistency.
"I can't put my finger on it. We just didn't execute and it kind of has a steamroll effect. If you don't execute you have to defend for three or four plays and then you're buggered and when you get the ball you just don't have that punch to go through the opposition.
"We didn't get into the grind. We didn't give ourselves an opportunity to complete sets."
In contrast the Sharks benefited from 11 more sets - and a 84 per cent completion rate - to nail seven tries before Manu Vatuvei broke the Warriors' duck in the final minute - scant consolation considering he had been exposed defensively by four-try scoring opposing wing Nathan Stapleton.
Todd Carney and Jeff Robson also put on a masterclass as a halves pairing, emphasising why Chad Townsend headed across the Tasman to Mt Smart this year; Shaun Johnson was nullified, while Konrad Hurrell's first start at centre and Feleti Mateo's return from injury could not supply any attacking thrust.
Like Friend, Warriors coach Matthew Elliott was also unable to explain how the team can showcase moments of brilliance one weekend and then gift a winless opponent their first two points seven days later.
"The turnaround is really about cutting out the errors we made and compete at the same level we did [against the Wests Tigers]," offered Elliott, after watching his side commit 17 handling errors.
Ideally the transformation will take place at Eden Park on Sunday against the in-form Bulldogs, who set the standard for the Warriors to aspire to when they ground out a 9-8 victory over the Sydney Roosters on Friday night.
"They play simple but effective footy," Friend said. "I think that's what we went away from."
AT A GLANCE
Round 5 Bulldogs 9 (C Stanley try; T Hodkinson 2 gls J Reynolds fg) Sydney Roosters 8 (M Jennings try; J Maloney 2 gls) Parramatta 25 (J Hayne W Hopoate N Peats S Radradra tries; C Sandow 4 gls C Sandow fg) Brisbane 18 (D Copley B Hunt J McGuire tries; C Parker 3 gls) Cronulla 37 (N Stapleton 4 T Arona B Ayshford S Tagataese tries; M Gordon 4 gls T Carney fg) Warriors 6 (M Vatuvei try; S Johnson gl) Penrith 12 (D Watene-Zelezniak 2 J Mansour tries) Canberra 6 (P Vaughan try; J Croker gl) South Sydney 26 (S Burgess L Burgess J Clark G Inglis tries; A Reynolds 5 gls) St George Illawarra 6 (J De Belin try; G Widdop gl) Gold Coast 28 (K Gordon A Kelly D Mead M Minichiello B Tighe tries; G Bird 4 gls) Melbourne 26 (S Waqa 2 K Bromwich W Chambers tries; C Smith 5 gls) Wests Tigers 34 (D Nofoaluma 2 R Farah C Lawrence A Woods tries; P Richards 7 gls) Manly 18 (S Matai 2 J Lyon tries; J Lyon 3 gls)