The gritty iSelect Titans, down seven regular players, were devastated to lose their third straight match tonight against the in-form NZ Warriors 24-16 tonight before a great crowd of 18,753 at Cbus Super Stadium.
After leading 16-14 at half-time after Dave ‘Coaltrain’ Taylor scored three tries in 22 minutes in his most devastating half a game of the season, the Titans were virtually starved out of the match in the second half – getting their hands on the ball for just 10 sets for 35 minutes.
In that time the penalties went 7-0 against them (after leading the count 6-2 at half-time) when the referees binged on ruck misdemeanours and every 50-50 call seemed to go against the home side. With hooker Beau Falloon out of the match with a back injury after 16 minutes, meaning Matt Srama (44 tackles) had to carry an extra load, the Warriors are just too big and powerful to stop with such a glut of possession.
Having said that, iSelect Titans coach John Cartwright admitted his side were too loose in defence (44 missed tackles) although they scrambled with determination as they have all year, and that they were not smart enough with the limited ball they had in the second half (a completion rate of little more than two-thirds).
Taylor’s power on the left side in the first half was dynamic and ensured he must remain in the Queensland selector’s top-of-mind. His third try, just in half-time, was special as he showed pace, skill and power to split the line from 35 metres and keep his right arm of the ground and spin around to place the ball over the line with three men on him.
The Warriors, with size and strike right across the field and halfback Shaun Johnson – scorer of a brilliant first half try – and five-eighth Chad Townsend getting several repeat sets from line-drop outs from clever kicks, were too good.
The Warriors started the scoring when a misread by the Titans’ right edge gave prop Ben Matulino a try in the 10th minute. Taylor’s first try came when Sam Tomkins fumbled a Maurice Blair grubber and his second came from close range. In between winger David Fusitua set up a try for Johnson with a brilliant drop off pass and scored the second in the right corner after a good pick-up of a poor pass by right centre Conrad Hurrell, who troubled the Titans all night.
The Warriors won the second half 10-0 with Fusitua scoring his second try and skipper Simon Mannering getting another, controversially when the video ref overruled the initial indication of ref Henry Perenara of ‘no try’. The replays were inconclusive but did suggest Mannering made the line from the momentum of the back reeling defender William Zillman.
“We were just defending the line for the whole time [in the second half], and with a side like the Warriors you can’t do that for the whole time without them coming up with points,” consoled stand-in skipper Will Zillman about what seemed an endless onslaught.
Even though it was another tough effort by the Titans – and only the home losses against Wests Tigers and South Sydney could be described without those words – it was no consolation to the team who were missing international co-captains in Nate Myles (Queensland Origin duty), Greg Bird (suspended), Origin representative Ashley Harrison (injured), Country winger Kevin Gordon, halves Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly, and late drop-out Brad Takairangi.
Paul Carter’s first half, when he took on much bigger men and was responsible for getting the side in position for Taylor to score his hat-trick the ruck after a charge down, typified the effort. He ran for 143m in the game, just short of Taylor, and made 25 tackles.
Cartwright conceded he had rarely seen a rookie take on reputations so confidently and successfully as the 21-year-old Carter the effort exhausted the youngster. “He totally played himself to a standstill the first 40 minutes. If he wasn’t out on the field the scoreboard wouldn’t have been what it was. He fought it through to half-time, but he wasn’t the same fella in the second half though.”
Cartwright controlled his dissatisfaction with some crucial rulings in the second half which contributed to a vast shift in possession. “We were a little bit loose in attack although we scrambled well and we looked dangerous with the ball. But in the second half I have never seen such a discrepancy like that with one side getting the ball and the other one not getting the ball. At one time we had 10 sets and they had 24.
“We all know what the contributing factors,” he hinted. “But with the limited opportunities we had we weren’t smart enough; it was as simple as that. They had a lot of possession and played smart, Johnson got a few line drop outs which was crucial. “
He felt Taylor’s devastating first-half sequence had been threatening for weeks. “He’s been building for that all year his first 40 minutes. You don’t get much better than that. Dave was in one of those moods he had he had spiders on him and Maurice [Blair] read that well and it was just get the ball to him and it worked well in the first half. His strength is running hard and attracting numbers to him and the rest of the side giving him space.”
Second-rower Ben Ridge also deserves mention. In his second NRL appearance of the season he was tireless in defence (36 tackles) and tough with the ball, while Blair played smart and the bigger forwards like Douglas, Bailey and White worked extremely hard against the ongoing onslaught close to the Titans’ line.
Warriors 24 (David Fusitua 2, Ben Matulino, Shaun Johnson, Simon Mannering tries; Chad Townsend 2 goals) beat iSelect Titans 16 (Dave Taylor 3 tries; Beau Henry 2 goals). Crowd: 18,753.