THE reflex comment is that this was a candidate for dullest game of the season, though a more charitable way to put it would be to say this arm wrestle was remarkable – and almost interesting – for its uneventfulness.
In a nutshell, the Warriors jagged a try in the fifth minute through Lance Hohaia, the conversion of which marked the end of scoring until the 72nd minute, when the same man slotted a field-goal to put his team out to a seven-point lead; and finally, on the stroke of fulltime, local wunderkind Kevin Locke scooped up a loose ball and ran 75 metres to touch down, and Locke’s second coversion of the night produced the final score.
Newcastle would still be wondering what happened to them.
They were credited with two line breaks for the night – one each to Ben Rogers and Danny Wicks – but unless your reviewer nodded off at some point (possible given the limited stimuli) these “highlights” were the work of a very liberal statistician.
In many, many years of watching football, your reviewer cannot recall a match in which a side looked less likely to score from opening whistle to siren. While the Knights dropped their share of ball (completing 68 per cent of their sets to the Warriors’ 80 per cent) they had more than enough possession to mount some raids, but never did. Let’s give the Warriors credit and acknowledge their defence was brick wall-like, but the Knights struggled to achieve even an attacking position, let alone turn on any razzle dazzle. The match could have been extended another 20 minutes, another hour, another day, and it’s doubtful the Knights could have found their way across the stripe.
The NRL season is a long one and all teams inevitably hit a rough patch. The Knights are in theirs now. Coming off a home loss to Parramatta, and without star Kurt Gidley, they competed with no lack of heart but without a hint of spark. As extenuating circumstances, they may point to the sheets of rain that swept the ground throughout the match, the single-digit temperature and a calamitous start in which James McManus, Junior Sau and Mark Taufua all sustained injuries, but coach Brian Smith and his players will need to find a way to rediscover the attacking potency that defined the Knights up until a few weeks ago.
The Warriors won’t be doing cartwheels, either – they should have led by more at halftime, such was their dominance of territory in the first stanza – though this was their second home shutout in succession, and you could make a case they’re positioning themselves for the kind of late charge on the finals they made last year.
The Game Swung When… Hohaia crossed after five minutes, surging through the defence to plant the ball somewhere near the line, video referee Phil Cooley deciding it was close enough.
While a single try in the opening minutes shouldn’t be decisive, this one was. Former coach Warren Ryan used to urge his charges to take the field-goal on a wet day to get seven in front, and then watch “the opposition’s arses sag”, a pretty fair description of what happened when Hohaia potted his one-pointer with eight minutes left.
Who Was Hot… Two tries in 80 minutes, one on the bell from an intercept, indicate no-one was smokin’, though Hohaia generally looked the man most likely.
Matt Hilder’s 71 tackles for the Knights deserves a mention.
Who Was Not… Sorry, Jarrod Mullen, an outside chance to force his way into Origin II, but this was a performance he’ll hope the Blues selectors missed – or disregard. It’s not that he had shocker, more that he failed to ignite his team at any point, never flicking the switch from defence to attack.
To be fair, he spent most of the night reefing the ball from his own territory on the sixth tackle, but the few chances he had to force a repeat set with a smart last-tackle kick weren’t taken.
Knights replacement winger Shannon O’Donnell had an unhappy night with his hands… and his judgment.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Again, no brilliance to speak of, though some blunders defied comprehension.
Shortly before Hohaia’s field-goal, Warriors lock Ian Henderson took a quick tap when two points were on offer that would have sealed the game. Henderson – who played very well – didn’t appear even to check with his skipper.
Earlier, Shannon O’Donnell did zip as Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei closed in on a bouncing ball in the Knights’ in-goal, with only an airswing from Vatuvei saving O’Donnell’s skin.
Bad Boys… Knights’ no.6 Ben Rogers was pinged for a high shot in the 3rd minute, but there was little in it and no report. Generally, the game was as clean as it was forgettable.
Refs Watch… Centremen Steve Lyons and Bernard Sutton did a good job shutting out a vocal crowd and resisting any temptation to blow a bunch of cheap penalties to the Warriors. In fact, they hardly blew the whistle at all – just seven penalties in all, four to the Knights.
One they should have given, however, involved the Warriors’ Locke, who struck a last-minute line-dropout four metres inside the field of play.
NRL Best & Fairest… 3 points – Lance Hohaia (Warriors): Scored an individual try that turned out to be the match-winner, sealed the deal with a field-goal and generally looked threatening; 2 points – Stacey Jones (Warriors): Played like the smartest man on the field, continually taking the right options to keep the Knights pinned, including 15 kicks for 477 metres; 1 point – Steve Price (Warriors): Slogged away for 160 hard-won metres.
Warriors 13 (L Hohaia, K Locke tries; K Locke 2 goals; Hohaia field-goal) def Knights 0 at Mt Smart St Stadium. Crowd: 14,255.