Warriors show spark but much work remains

AARON GOILE
Last updated 05:00 18/02/2013
Shaun Johnson
Photosport
TURN OF PACE: Shaun Johnson in action for the Warriors in their pre-season game against Penrith in Hamilton.

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Warriors coach Matt Elliott has plenty of work ahead of him if he's to well and truly put last year's horror show to bed.

This week there will be lots for the players and coaching staff to mull over after the 32-18 NRL trial loss to the Penrith Panthers at Waikato Stadium on Saturday.

The Warriors, with their big guns back, were well outplayed in their second pre-season outing and have just this weekend's match against the Brisbane Broncos in Dunedin to sort things out before their first game of the regular season on March 9.

In immaculate conditions and in front of a crowd of 12,000, it was the Panthers who were the more clinical and they dominated the contest, but some Shaun Johnson magic opened the hosts' account in the seventh minute.

With his team pushed backwards towards the 40-metre line, the skilful halfback chipped and regathered before kicking wide for Manu Vatuvei, who produced a fantastic put-down when diving and reeling in the ball.

But four unanswered tries had the Panthers in control.

Former Warrior Lewis Brown nicely drew and passed for winger Josh Mansour to finish in the left corner, then on quarter time Brown himself scored, as he jogged in under the bar, following a great break from centre Wes Naiqama.

The Panthers were quick to extend their lead in the second quarter, with Warriors winger Bill Tupou spilling a high ball after a solid hit from Naiqama.

The ball came out to Brown who finished with an acrobatic forward roll in the left corner.

After triple success on the left, the Panthers found points on the right, with winger David Simmons showing a clean pair of heels in a sideline burst.

The visitors were nearly in again right on halftime after another nice interchange from Brown and Naiqama had their team surge up-field, but Tupou produced a try-saving tackle, leaving the scoreline at 22-4 in Penrith's favour at the long break.

Warriors winger Ngani Laumape, who is still eligible for the Junior side, crossed to get his team back in it, but five minutes later the hosts invited the Panthers back down their end when a pass went to ground and was scooped up by five-eighth Lachlan Coote who ran away for an easy finish.

Going nowhere on attack with several static plays, the Warriors were sparked back to life by a 40-metre run from Vatuvei, who fed Kevin Locke for a super finish in the left corner.

Down 28-12 at three-quarter time, the Warriors were forced to fight back.

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In the 67th minute they narrowed the margin thanks to a Johnson chip kick finding winger Glen Fisiiahi on the full.

Johnson then nailed his first conversion on his fourth attempt to bring his side back within 10.

The crowd brought out the Warriors chant to try to propel the team home, but the Panthers had the final say when they created a massive overlap for Geoff Daniela to cross with four minutes left.

Elliott was pleased with new club members Dane Nielsen and Thomas Leuluai, while some younger players also earned praise.

"I thought young Seb [Sebastine Ikahihifo] was outstanding and I thought Ngani [Laumape] looked like a first grader. Carlos [Tuimavave], I was a lot happier with him this week as well. So there was a few guys that really stuck their hand up."

However, the coach said his side was hindered on attack, which came about through slow play of the balls.

"Because our ruck speed was slow, our kickers were kicking under pressure all the time," Elliott said. "We did end up on a sideline on play five a few times which is not what we planned to do. We need to work on the systems of play we've got and help them play with a bit more fluency, and they also need to follow them."

Elliott said a lot of time had already been focused on addressing ruck speed, but admitted more had to be done and the coaching of it needed to improve.

Another thing the Warriors will quickly want to fine-tune is who will take on the hooking role in the absence of the injured Nathan Friend.

Alehana Mara and Pita Godinet are nippy options, while usual backrower Elijah Taylor spent more time there on Saturday.

"He looked tired though, he's been working out it's a demanding position," Elliott said. "So if he does spend time there we're going to have to work out who's next, so we've got a bit of head scratching to do there at the moment." 

- Waikato Times

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