Sunday’s win over Manly was one of the greatest performances the Warriors have ever put together. You never want to say that a team has turned a corner, but there was certainly the sense that every prior incarnation would have felt justified in losing that game, rather than finding a way to win.
The thing that impressed me most though, wasn’t Jones’ miraculous play, but our composure after some plainly dirty play from the Sea Eagles. On a perfect afternoon in Sydney there were 26 handling errors, evenly split between the teams. Obviously I paid less attention to Manly’s, which seemed to be generally of the lapsed concentration variety (understandable given the astounding bulk of this Warriors team), but of those attributed to the Warriors a number came from some considerable work being put on the ball in the tackle.
It seems strange that in a game the referees worked very hard to suffocate the life out of with an endless succession of penalties there were none that I saw for stripping the ball in the tackle. In some ways this was pleasing – it used to be a Warriors specialty that after conceding a penalty Lauaki or Swann would commit some ugly, obvious strip and march the opposition a couple of dozen further metres down the park to the inevitable try.
In this game the Warriors were entirely composed, taking the penalties with a rare calm, and when they conceded tries it was through opposition skill or defensive lapses, rather than their own dumb machinations. But the Warriors thus far this year have been a team marked by their discipline – even after that penalty fest they’re sitting second in the completion rate stats.
It must have taken every ounce of that discipline to absorb the blatant ripping, pounding and pushing the Manly players inflicted on the football when in their possession. It seemed like every other tackle one player would be bringing the body down while the other (usually that c*** Watmough) vigourously leveraged the ball. Yet when it popped out Shayne Hayne and Steve Lyons just blew it up as a straight knock on with a Manly feed. Leeson Ah Mau’s debut was a pretty inglorious one due to but two such examples alone. It beggars belief that the refs (plural, remember) could have missed the strips, could think that a well-drilled side could just cough the pill up that many times in the tackle in such utterly perfect conditions for rugby league.
The points swang the right way in the end, but only by the grace of God (aka Stacey Jones), and at least two tries were scored off the back of possesion changes achieved by these means. It’s right and just that the NRL pounce on the grapple tackle, and try and curb the rampant brainlessness of its players in public, but getting the two refs to pay a little more attention to some very clear dirty play wouldn’t go amiss either. Because had that result gone the other way by a tight margin it would have been squarely in the hands of the Manly forwards, and therefore, the officious-to-a-point referees.