THE grimace on Willie Mason’s face said it all. The Roosters abused their 16-0 advantage over the Warriors to leave New Zealand without the two competition points or the right to convince anyone they are the real deal this year.
The Warriors have struggled this season despite the lofty predictions about their year may end on grand final day. But led by New Zealand’s own little master, Stacey Jones, they clawed back the Roosters’ big lead to finish up with a very crucial couple of points to hoist them up the ladder.
What looked like a dour, one-sided match turned into the game of the round, with a thrilling Golden Point finish.
The Game Swung When… The Warriors found their confidence via their evergreen halfback. Heading into half-time the Roosters were pretty cocky – and why wouldn’t they be? The boys from Bondi were up 16-0 and had easily punched through the Warriors’ line three times with deft footwork and smart passing.
Down the other end of the field the Kiwis seemed determined to ruin every chance they had on their own line, with errors that a team slated as a premiership chance this year should not be making. Then Jones decided enough was enough. He pulled off a classic play – the run-around – with perfect timing and he was over.
It was the confidence boost the Warriors needed. Heading towards their third straight loss at home, and their fourth of the season, the Warriors finally got the feel that something was going their way.
Who Was Hot… In the first half it was Mitchell Pearce, aided by his five-eighth partner Braith Anasta. Between them the pair came up with the big plays and had a hand in all the Roosters’ tries. Pearce’s kicking game was exceptional, while Anasta continually took on the line and made the Warriors’ defence work hard.
After the break it was all Jones. He scored their first try and set up two others through perfectly placed cross-field kicks to Manu Vatuvei’s wing. The big winger had a mixed day – his old problem with his hands hampered his first half but he was crucial to the Warriors’ comeback in the second.
Forwards Micheal Luck, Steve Price and Sam Rapira were tireless, particularly in extra time, when they kept working to bend the Roosters’ line.
Who Was Not… The game was played in greasy conditions and handling was a huge problem for both sides, and it always seemed to be at a crucial point when things went astray.
Lance Hohaia and Shane Shackleton were the worst culprits with three errors each.
Special mention must go to the Roosters’ English import Jordan Tansey, whose eight-minute debut in the NRL will rank as one of the worst on record. He would have been happier to spend the whole game on the bench. He made three tackles and did not touch the ball. He was ‘hooked’ soon after standing by to watch Vatuvei score.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… An offside penalty in front of the posts 30 metres out with five minutes to go was a brain explosion from the Roosters’ defenders, with the ensuing penalty goal levelling the match.
But the play of the game belonged to one of the Warriors’ three returning stars. Vatuvei and Price were invaluable but the play in extra time by fill-in fullback Lance Hohaia was a piece of truly enterprising football.
Hohaia fielded a kick deep in his own half and the trailing Roosters defenders were keen to smash him. But Hohaia turned on the pace and his step and ended up in the clear halfway down the field. With speedster Denan Kemp supporting, Hohaia sent a kick into the Roosters’ half. Fullback Sam Perrett jumped on it but Kemp steamed through and pushed Perrett over the sideline, 10 metres out from the try line. From there it was just a matter of being patient for Jones to slot a momentous field-goal.
Injuries… A few players returning from injury pulled up sore but there were no major problems for either side.
Refs Watch… Warriors fans would be happy with the officials’ performances – Roosters fans would not. The penalty count heavily favoured the home side 10-3.
Video referee Paul Simpkins raised a few eyebrows by allowing Vatuvei’s try that put the Warriors within two of the Roosters. On some replay angles it looked as though the ball had come forward off his hand, but the try was given.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Stacey Jones (Warriors): ‘Retirement’ only made Jones better, it seems. He had a hand in every try and kicked the match-winning field-goal; 2 points – Mitchell Pearce (Roosters): Was outstanding in the first half and held his head high in the second as his team’s defence crumbled around him; 1 point – Lance Hohaia (Warriors): Apart from his error rate – one a crucial knock-on when the was over the try line – Hohaia was back to his best and set up the play that eventually won the match for the Warriors.
Warriors 17 (S Jones, J Ropati, M Vatuvei tries, D Kemp 2 goals, S Jones field-goal) def Roosters 16 (M Pearce, S Shackleton, I Soliola tries, C Fitzgibbon 2 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Crowd: 16, 309.