With fellow bookend Addin Fonua-Blake already parked up for the evening and the sound of Des Hasler’s halftime explosion still ringing in his ears, the last thing Marty Taupau needed was lights out from a friendless loanee.
“We don’t like Manly either Watmough” read a Warriors fan’s sign at Mt Smart. Unfortunately for the fan, love ‘em or hate ‘em the Manly juggernaut keeps on rolling.
The Warriors on the other hand have now lost two games in a row, and are in a dogfight to make the top eight.
It was a game that was always going to be tough for the Warriors, with Shaun Johnson and Feleti Mateo both scratched an hour before kickoff. As a result the Warriors lost key playmaking ability, and it was clear they were missing something on attack.
Chad Townsend is a good organiser and distributor but his kicking game was exposed, and the lack of other options led to a lot of 20 metre restarts and extra tackles for Manly.
It was a shame for the spectacle that Johnson didn’t play, as the forward battle was incredible, and a credit to the Warriors that Manly scored their first three tries by stretching them wide after failing to score through the middle.
The Warriors had long periods of possession and attacking situations, but they lacked subtleness. An example of this was the move to get Konrad Hurrell the ball, telegraphed so much so that there were two and three defenders on him, as opposed to isolating him one-on-one with Steve Matai.
The fact the Warriors didn’t take their opportunities wasn’t solely down to having limited playmakers. Take nothing away from Manly’s defence, which was incredible, scrambling defence that stopped numerous tries. Manly knew this was going to be a tough game and they were up for it.
A key moment was Manu Vatuvei, who looked headed for a try on halftime only for Daly Cherry-Evans to get a hand on the Beast’s ankle and thwart the movement. That never-say-die attitude will be hard to beat over the coming rounds and into the finals.
One facet of the Warriors play that needs improving is set completion. A 64 per cent completion rate against Manly was always going to make things tough, but it is something that has been a problem for a while. Against several teams the Warriors have had periods of turning the ball over and putting themselves under pressure. In the past they have managed to get through this, however against Manly it came unstuck. Coach Andrew McFadden has the defence working very well, but needs to fix their completion issue.
The Warriors are now in a must-win situation for the run into the finals. While the draw is somewhat easier with Canberra, Cronulla and Newcastle over the next three weeks, they need to win all three to gain momentum, and simply to keep touch with the other teams in the race for the top eight.
The key for the Warriors is clearly Shaun Johnson – they need him fit and firing, and maybe the week off against Manly was required to get him fresh for the finals run.
Without Johnson, the Warriors can start preparing for 2015.