IF the Melbourne Storm and the Warriors are serious about having this clash become an annual ANZAC Day tradition they certainly couldn’t have hoped for a better advertisement.
Despite pouring rain, a healthy crowd of more than 15,000 descended on Olympic Park to watch the first draw of season 2009 and while some say a draw is like kissing your sister, both teams certainly deserved some reward from this match and by sharing the points this is achieved.
With new five-eighth Brett Finch, Melbourne looked more dangerous in attack, and while the combinations are still rusty, they’ll improve. The home side pushed out to a 14-6 advantage before fatigue allowed the Warriors a chance to come home stronger.
The final result keeps both sides in or around the top eight.
The Game Swung When… The Warriors woke up shortly after half-time. Having just been scored against to fall behind 14-6 the visitors lifted their tempo and started playing smarter football, a move that allowed them to reel in the tiring Storm. Down to 15 men the Melbourne side battled hard but the Warriors were always going to have the legs coming home, particularly as the Storm boys were backing up from another dogfight last Monday night.
Tries in the 55th and 63rd minutes had the Warriors back on level terms but despite having all of the momentum and the majority of possession they couldn’t land the killer blow.
Who Was Hot… Warriors second-rower and vice captain Micheal Luck was a machine. The Queensland Origin hopeful powered his way to an incredible 74(!) tackles and also had time for 10 hit-ups. His tackle tally was 37 more than his nearest team-mate!
Warriors fullback Lance Hohaia had a busy game with 157 metres gained, 12 tackle-breaks, a line-break and a try assist while big winger Manu Vatuvei deserves some praise for his two tries, 178 metres gained and three line-breaks, although he had some errors in his game. Prop Steve Price also gets a shout for making 200 metres from 22 hit-ups.
For Melbourne, young Kiwi prop Adam Blair was a real handful on his way to 161 metres. His runs came with venom and often when needed the most, plus he added 39 tackles. His prop partner Jeff Lima also produced the big numbers, gaining 189 metres and adding 33 tackles. New buy Brett Finch settled into the side nicely and showed great potential for future games.
Special mention must also go to the 15,200 fans who turned up for the match and hung around despite driving rain for most for the clash. Those who did were rewarded with a thriller.
Who Was Not… In a game this close and this rugged it would be unfair to single anyone out as performing poorly. There were some poor errors here and there, and players like Cameron Smith would not be happy to have conceded four penalties during the game, but they all had a positive impact.
For every error Stacey Jones had made, including the late knock-on that cruelled any chance of victory, there was a skilful play. For every missed tackle Patrick Ah Van had (five) there was a powerful run or try.
The only player to not really have an impact was Storm benchman Kevin Proctor – and that’s only because he lasted two minutes before suffering an ankle injury.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The entire match was hard to fathom; when one team grabbed the momentum, the other team found a way to limit the damage – something that is very hard to do in the modern era of rugby league.
It was more a war of attrition than flashy skills… although there were some moments. The Greg Inglis break down the left sideline, where he went from a standing start, threw off a defender with a trademark fend and then blistered past the winger despite having just two metres to work with, was sublime – and had Anthony Quinn not been knocked into next year it would almost certainly have produced points.
The field-goal shoot-out was intense. Cooper Cronk missed two in regular time and Stacey Jones missed one. In the first half of golden point, Jones had one charged down and then had the best chance of the match to end it, only to hit the post from close range. Cronk then had another miss before the teams changed ends again. The second stanza of extra time saw both teams try to run the football on the last tackle, only to be denied, before Jones fumbled the last chance at glory in the dying seconds.
Injuries… Storm winger Anthony Quinn was knocked unconscious after being crunched just short of the try line by some Warriors cover defence. The Origin winger was reportedly out of it for several minutes before coming around and being taken to hospital by ambulance. He has been cleared of serious injury but may still miss a week of football as a precaution.
Reserve back-rower Kevin Proctor suffered a high ankle sprain and could miss some football in the coming rounds. Hooker and captain Cameron Smith also suffered a hand injury which will be monitored.
Bad Boys… The boys were on their best behaviour generally, except for one minor lifting tackle by Cameron Smith and Dallas Johnson on Stacey Jones. The tackle was pretty tame and the pair weren’t charged by the match review committee.
Refs Watch… Tony Archer and Matt Cecchin steered clear of controversy for most of the contest although for a worrying moment it looked as though they were going to make a monumental error at the death. With just seconds remaining in the last period of extra time, Stacey Jones clearly knocked on before passing to Lance Hohaia. Hohaia potted a field-goal and the delay in any sort of whistle had Melbourne players, officials and fans in disbelief.
Thankfully sanity prevailed and Archer went upstairs to the video r eferee where Tim Mander sent back the red light. It was a little unnerving how long it took to reach the decision.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Micheal Luck (Warriors): To make 74 tackles in the NRL and not keel over and die is a mammoth effort. Luck did it with seeming ease and only missed one tackle all night! He also contributed in attack making it a stellar performance; 2 points – Adam Blair (Storm): The big Kiwi prop had both quality and quantity in his play on his way to big numbers. Blair ran the ball with venom and did his best to sting in defence, should be in the Kiwi side for the upcoming Test and could really trouble the Aussies; 1 point – Lance Hohaia (Warriors): Was the Warriors’ main spark in attack, helping his side fight back from a deficit to take home a valuable competition point.
Storm 14 (S Turner, B Slater, W Chambers tries; C Smith goal) drew Warriors 14 (M Vatuvei 2, P Ah Van tries; D Kemp goal) at Olympic Park. Crowd: 15,200.