QUICK WRAP: Cowboys at Warriors
15 April 2023 - New Zealand play North Queensland in round 7 of the NRLM season in the early Saturday game at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Was the game worth watching?
It was pretty ugly. It was worth watching to see both teams establish their respective credentials but it was far from a glittering example of well polished rugby league.
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Did the Cowboys look like the better team?
No, not even close, not even a little bit. It is not possible for me to be sufficiently scathing of the Cowboys’ performance. At no point, despite repeated invitations from the Warriors, did North Queensland indicate a serious desire to score points, much less win the game. If you needed a game to show you the difference between a good team playing poorly and a poor team, this is it. If the Warriors commit half the errors, or even just move the same number of errors from their own half to down to the other end of the field, they murder the Cowboys.
Were the Warriors really the better team?
Yes. Look at the stats and then look at the scoreboard. There’s a disconnect there and it’s one entirely of the Cowboys’ making because they cannot execute. Their defence is porous. Their offence is anemic. Everything in between sucks. North Queensland barely outproduced New Zealand despite 56% possession and seven more sets. The Cowboys were -3 on errors, +2 on penalties and +5 on set restarts and nearly 250m up on the Warriors. How much more of an invitation do you need? The final stats here are prettier reading than at half time when the Cowboys had an even more substantial advantage and were only two points behind.
Did you notice?
I had a half baked theory that the Cowboys were just short a bit of ball and a short of yardage and if they could turn that around, they’d get enough opportunities to put points on the board and put their defensive efficiency to good use. They didn’t look like a 2-4 team but they had the results of one. Maybe Taumalolo needed a few more minutes.
This game absolutely skewered that idea. The Cowboys had everything they needed to win this game and they just couldn’t do it.
Here’s the play the ball of the Curran try.
Blink and you'd miss this wide shot but not only is Scott Drinkwater under the posts, gesturing at the referee with his back to the ruck, that’s seven (7) Warriors to the right against four (4) Cowboys defending. Like Timothee Chamalet being struck out1, you're out. You were always out. You've been out since the day you were born. Any competent rugby league side scores from here and Shaun Johnson takes what is probably the easiest of his three or four options en route to doing so. The Dolphins scored two tries off numerical mismatches last week.
Here’s Marcelo Montoya brushing off Kyle Feldt, Jeremiah Nanai, Scott Drinkwater and Kyle Feldt again on the way to putting Ed Kosi over for a try. That, in isolation, would not be disastrous, except it’s reminiscient of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow running past four Cowboys to score a try last week. Once is misfortune but to do it twice is careless.
The same defensive problems repeating week-to-week - forwards are missing tackles, backs aren’t numbering up or getting into position, and Scott Drinkwater, who apparently weighs 91kg but may as well be a cardboard cutout2 - and are leading directly to tries.
Let’s look at the other side of the ball.
Here’s Valentine Holmes pointing at the try line, telling Jack Gosiewski where to put in a kick on the last tackle. If you need Holmes to clearly telegraph his preference in front of the world - that he wants a grubber put in behind the defence for him to swoop on, one of the things he famously loves doing - then you have no right to be holding the ball on the fifth tackle. To be fair to Gosiewski, it’s not his job to be in this position. He’s a forward.
After Drinkwater is tackled on the previous play, Granville sends the ball right to Townsend, who decides he doesn’t like what he sees, sends it back left to Dearden, which is picked off by Taumalolo, who puts it on to Gosiewski. That’s an absurd set of circumstances for a fifth tackle option, made only worse by the fact that Drinkwater recovered from an error to place a perfect kick for Holmes to score the Cowboys’ third try later in the game. Two moments of individual brilliance that could have been replicated at any time, should the Cowboys have decided to do anything instead of faffing about.
Later in the first half:
The Cowboys finally put some bodies in motion to get Murray Taulagi on the outside of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who is having an extremely hard time in the first half. While this was not a try - obviously so, I thought on first viewing - it was clear that was there was a seam there to be picked at, especially if you don’t want Feldt going up against Kosi and Montoya on the other side. Taulagi should be able to get outside and fricassee Watene-Zelezniak at will, as he did in the 18th minute to score the Cowboys’ first try. The Cowboys try putting some bodies in motion on the next set and it’s pretty aimless and they just don’t try any of this again despite the available evidence of the scoreboard.
Last week, we saw what North Queensland can do with some coordinated offensive play and they’re just not interested in doing it more than once. There’s some serious structural issues here.
Payten said he wanted a fast start in his pre-match interview. He did not get it and the Warriors dominated the first ten minutes. I wonder if starting Granville in the middle helps or hinders this plan? You’d normally say it’d hinder but Granville was at least lively, if not effective, in the opening phase of the game.
Payten’s interim stint at the Warriors was an underperformance of the numbers that I ignored due to the conditions they were playing under. Then he had a bad year with the Cowboys and I started to wonder if this guy really knows what he’s doing. Then he had a good year with the Cowboys and I figured he did indeed know what he was doing. Now the Cowboys are having what appears to be another bad year, the doubts are back. If this was American football, a coordinator would be getting fired this week.
As Voss pointed out on the call, looking at the stats line, the Warriors should’ve lost this by 30. New Zealand actually won by eight and six of those points come from a wild ricochet off a Johnson kick to put Walker over that no one could have predicted or stopped. To be fair to the Cowboys, sometimes shit happens. As a corrollary, the Warriors get another two points after missing a penalty goal attempt but Drinkwater botches the 20 metre restart and kicks it out on the full. Not only do the Warriors end up getting their two points, they take another minute off the clock. Sometimes shit happens and it’s your fault.
It must be intensely frustrating for Cowboys fans to see that they could have won this game and the Bulldogs game, if the Cows were about 5% better than the absolute worst, and North Queensland would then be 4-3. But they didn’t.
There were three captain’s challenges in this game (66’, 67’ and 70’) and they were all successful. Both teams finished with challenges intact.
There were two tries given for the Cowboys, the above Taulagi effort (32’) and Feldt no try/Peta Hiku downtown (59’), that were, to me at least, obviously not tries based on first viewing and yet, the referee sent them up and the commentators pretended they were tries until WAIT HOLD ON A SECOND HERE HMMMM on the second or thrid replay, which is just the most tedious play acting. We get it every week and it sucks.
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My favourite moment in this game was when Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad ran straight at Drinkwater and nearly went over him.