Horror night leaves Warriors reeling

Horror night leaves Warriors reeling

It was a game where the potential rewards on offer to the Warriors were handsome, but in the end the worst-case scenario became their reality.

Round 19 against the Penrith Panthers in Auckland presented the Kiwi side with a golden chance to earn a vital win against their biggest rival in terms of breaking into the NRL Telstra Premiership top eight, along with the opportunity to give departing club legend Manu Vatuvei a fitting farewell.

Instead they twice blew leads to go down 34-22 to the Panthers, a result which leaves them four points adrift of the top eight with only seven games to go, while they lost their best player, Shaun Johnson, to a potentially serious knee injury in the process.

‌Post-match coach Stephen Kearney cut a dejected figure.

"It was just a really disappointing finish to a game there on our part," Kearney said.

"At 22-18 [in front] with 13 or so minutes to go, we just lost our way a bit there. Very disappointing.

"Very similar to the game before the bye (a 26-22 loss to the Manly Sea Eagles), just some individuals not getting their job done and you pay a pretty hefty price in this competition. 

"I am not thinking about [finals] right at this stage.

"If there is an opportunity then we will be doing everything we can to try and maximise that opportunity. On the back of tonight's performance we have got a fair bit to get through.

"It doesn't stop us trying and putting our best foot forward every week."

It won't get any easier for the Warriors next week, with a clash against the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville awaiting them at a venue where they have tasted victory just once in 11 visits since 2003.

They will almost certainly have to do it without their leading point-scorer and try generator in Johnson too, who left the field in the 62nd minute on Friday night after collapsing away from any contact.

Kearney said the initial signs weren't good for his star No.7.

"It's a knee injury, in terms of the extent of it I am not 100 per cent sure," Kearney said.

"No doubt over the next probably 24 hours he will get some scans, but the early diagnosis is probably not a real good one.

"Potentially [serious], yeah, we just need to wait until the pictures tell the story."

Fellow playmaker Kieran Foran said the loss of Johnson long term would be hard to overcome.

"Shaun, if he is out is going to be a huge loss, you can't replace a guy like that, so it is going to come down to the leadership group, everyone stepping up a notch," Foran said.

"It's going to be hard to deal with, but I am sure we will get through it.

"He is pretty shattered at the moment, he is not too sure what it is… he was pretty disappointed.

"It's huge to lose a player of Shaun's calibre out there in a tight contest with 18 minutes to go, it's pretty difficult to adapt, but in saying that we should have done a better job.

"We should have been able to close the game out… up 22-18 we had an opportunity to win that game and it's disappointing to lose it, especially in the way we did."