Warriors left lamenting yet another insipid performance
The Warriors have once again been left scratching their heads, wringing their hands and staring thoughtfully into mirrors after a pitiful defensive showing in their 30-14 loss to an impressive St George Illawarra in Hamilton.
The final scoreline flattered the hosts, as a superior Dragons pack bullied their opponents relentlessly and forced them into 57 missed tackles.
And with the Warriors under the pump and leaving gaping holes in the middle, the Saints ran in six tries to cement themselves comfortably in the NRL top eight.
The Warriors' 16-point loss in driving rain leaves them staring down the barrel of yet another uphill climb for a finals berth.
"Apart from the first 20, 25 minutes, we just were physically beat, whether at the tackle or us carrying," Warriors boss Stephen Kearney said.
"With the missed tackles come the offloads, which create missed tackles, and then when you're trying to carry the footy they're physically getting the better of you.
"It takes energy out of you."
It was a night to forget for rookie Warriors winger Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, despite scoring two of his side's three tries in just his third NRL appearance.
He was repeatedly outwitted by makeshift Dragons left-edge duo Tim Lafai and Kalifa Faifai Loa as the pair grabbed three tries between them.
Second-rower Joel Thompson also scored down Nicoll-Klokstad's flank.
Nevertheless, Kearney declined to place blame at the 21-year-old's feet, saying he had been let down by a sub-par showing from the forwards.
Kearney would now look over the tapes and decide if squad changes were needed for next week's clash with Wayne Bennett's Brisbane outfit in Auckland.
"That's the end product - sometimes it's the build-up, why that's happening," Kearney said.
"When we're getting beaten physically in terms of the ruck speed, that's not on the right edge, it's probably through the middle, then it makes their job a lot harder.
"In my experience, it always grows from somewhere."
After Ben Matulino had given the Warriors a 12th-minute lead, the Dragons picked up a stunning leveller through Faifai Loa on the back of successive tackle-breaks - slicing through the middle, the left and the middle again on the way to the line.
Thompson and Lafai followed suit, before Nicoll-Klokstad capitalised on some careless Dragons defending to haul the Warriors within eight at the break.
But further second-half tries to Nene Macdonald, Faifai Loa and Taane Milne rendered Nicoll-Klokstad's second try with four minutes left no more than a consolation.
Kearney couldn't put his finger on the source of his side's defensive woes, having so effectively repelled the Roosters before the international break.
But a subsequent collapse against the Panthers last weekend and Friday's listless display have sent them back to square one.
"However we unfixed it, we need to fix it," Kearney said.
"A lot of that is in attitude, in working together, and I thought there were some efforts out there from individuals but we weren't working collectively."