Rugby league: New Zealand Warriors’ NRL finals hopes dashed for good after defeat to Canberra Raiders

Raiders 28
Warriors 16

Of course it was going to end like this.

With their season on the line, the Warriors have suffered another agonising loss, going down 28-16 to the Raiders.

They led for most of the match, and didn’t trail until the 78th minute, but Jordan Rapana’s late, late try ended the Warriors flickering finals hopes.

It will be tough to take, as they led 16-0 after 25 minutes, then didn’t score another point.

But they went down swinging, not leaving much out there, which will be some consolation. They also lost key playmakers Chad Townsend and Wayde Egan to injury in the second half, while Canberra started to show signs of the Green Machine of 2019.

There may also be questions over a first-half Reece Walsh conversion attempt, which appeared to curl inside the left hand upright, only to be flagged wide.

But that’s all academic now.

It was almost a reversal of the memorable early season clash in Canberra. The Warriors led 16-0 just before halftime, before the Raiders reeled in the deficit with three unanswered tries. Already on a short turnaround, the Warriors started to flag in the second half, and lacked composure and organisation without their key playmakers.

The first half was the Warriors’ best of the season. They were sharp on attack, constantly creating problems around the ruck. They barely made a mistake, their kicking game was spot on, and the intangibles went their way, with a successful captain’s challenge and a couple of penalties, while the Raiders bumbled into trouble (nine errors).

But the tide was always likely to turn – especially with the bounce of the ball – and the Raiders were good enough to capitalise.

The Warriors had made an unbelievable start, with one of the fastest tries of the NRL season, after just 45 seconds. On their fourth tackle of the match, Egan split the defence from dummy half, before finding Sean O’Sullivan backing up.

The Auckland team had to repel a significant period of pressure, before another well-constructed try.

The Warriors used good fifth tackle variation with a delayed kick, which drew a mistake from Bailey Simonsson, allowing Rocco Berry to dot down. Walsh’s conversion was curiously ruled wide.

Egan was creating havoc from dummy half – and the Warriors extended their lead with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s try, after Simonsson spilled a huge Townsend bomb.

The Warriors should have been further ahead before halftime, but didn’t have the polish to complement the pressure. They were made to pay for their profligacy with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s strong try just before the break.

That gave the Raiders life, and kicked into gear early in the second half, with Sebastian Kris burrowing his way over after a sweeping move.

Townsend departed with 33 minutes to play, with a recurrence of his shoulder injury, after a couple of jarring first-half tackles.

Mistakes started to creep in, while Joseph Tapine was particularly effective through the middle for Canberra. Marcelo Montoya conceded consecutive penalties for smashing Nicoll-Klokstad, but that only seemed to motivate the Kiwis fullback, who was brilliant.

The Warriors couldn’t build any pressure and that eventually told, with a second try from Kris, after a lightning left-edge raid, levelling the scores.

Jordan Rapana missed a 40-metre penalty attempt, before the Warriors elected not to set for a field goal with six minutes remaining, but made a hash of their fifth-tackle option.

Walsh then missed a 77th minute snap, before Rapana finished off another left edge attack to take the game, with Hudson Young’s try on the hooter just icing on the Canberra cake.

Raiders 28 (Sebastian Kris 2, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Hudson Young tries; Rapana 4 cons)
Warriors 16 (Sean O’Sullivan, Rocco Berry, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak tries; Reece Walsh 2 cons)
Halftime: 6-16

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