Last Friday night the Warriors had it all to play for. A full strength side coming off a disappointing last minute loss to the Sharks with an amazing chance to kick start their top four run.
Shaun Johnson was back fully fit and with game time under his belt, RTS was in a similar situation. The Fus was back after a week off and ready to wreck havoc.
The Panthers meanwhile were sans their Origin stars, including both of their starting halves. Add in fellow Origin star Tyrone Peachy, injured Origin prop RCG as well as Josh Mansour and Dylan Edwards and that’s some serious cattle missing.
The Warriors should have been $1.05 despite being away from home.
The mighty Johnson, RTS and Isaac Luke taking on a third string half back and a depleted forward pack.
On paper this should have been all one way traffic and a huge, blow out score-line.
Ultimately it was … but not in favour of the Warriors.
Luai’s performance was such that social media was quick to joke about the Panthers not having to re-sign their Blues number seven in young Nathan Cleary. He was a stand out, head and shoulders above his far more experienced opponent.
May outplayed Blake Green. Katao outplayed Luke. DWZ outpointed RTS in the battle of the double-barrelled surname fullbacks.
Up front Viliame Kikau, Isaah Yeo and James Fisher Harris were monsters. James Tamou and Trent Merrin were huge. The Panthers’ bench provided impact and continued to dominate on the back of the platform laid by their run on forwards.
The Warriors simply stood under the posts and looked like they had been caught off guard by a far hungrier side. Johnson was barely sighted. Those of us with Johnson in their super coach side looked to the skies while the superstar number seven faded into the background.
Simply put the Warriors, a side with genuine top four aspirations, should never have lost this game.
Games at the NRL level are never gifted two points but this was as close as could possibly be. That’s massively unfair to the Panthers but with their two Origin-level halves out, the Warriors should have had a huge advantage.
The Warriors, in losing, not only dropped two competition points, but allowed a close rival to skip ahead of them.
The Panthers sit on 24 points in fourth position. The Warriors now sit eighth with 22 points. Although that is only two competition points, the Warriors have a -10 points differential.
Penrith in contrast sit with a +108 difference.
In reality last Friday’s game was as close to a four competition point contest and there can be.
Of the teams above them, only the Broncos on -6 can realistically be caught over one weekend. The Sharks are +30 so two big results in their favour could see the Warriors catch them. The Roosters at +95 are too far ahead.
The Warriors failed to cash in on a golden ticket ride to the top four.
They play the Broncos this Sunday, in Brisbane, in a monster game. If the Warriors lose here their points differential takes a double hit. The Broncs go up at their expense.
Either the Panthers or Sharks will capture two points (or split two points) on Friday which will put the Warriors either four points off the top four, or two points, and differential, behind both Penrith and Cronulla.
You’d have to believe the Roosters will account for the Titans and the Storm should beat Manly.
Those two dropped points last Friday night suddenly look massively.
A genuine top four side would find a way out of this position, but a genuine top four side probably would have beaten a rival missing both starting halves, their hooker, their fullback and their best outside back.
Teams will win and lose despite the supposed odds, and there’s every chance the Warriors will come out and run up a score against the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. That said, the Warriors had a literal run to the top four presented to them by the draw and Origin selections but could not take the opportunity.
It’s hardly the end of their season and they’re all but assured a top eight position, but their top four chances now look a long way away from where they were when they ran out onto Penrith stadium last Friday night.
Come the first week of finals they may very well look back at the Panthers loss as being THE game in 2018.