NRL: Penrith blow Warriors out of playoffs early

The spectre of James Maloney returned to haunt the NZ Warriors, as the master half ended their 2018 NRL playoff hopes early.

After running out to an early 10-point lead, the Auckland-based club had its dream rudely squashed by the player who helped mastermind their last visit to the post-season.

Maloney wore Warriors colours back in 2011, when they went all the way to the Grand Final, before losing to Manly Sea Eagles.

Since then, he was won NRL titles with Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks, and this season guided New South Wales to State-of-Origin success.

On Saturday, he underlined those impeccable credentials and proved the difference for Penrith Panthers, as they eliminated the Warriors from the playoffs in the opening round, running away 27-12 in Sydney.

With only two survivors from that post-season run seven years ago - Simon Mannering and Shaun Johnson - the visitors clicked in the opening quarter, running up a 12-2 lead, with tries to Issac Luke and David Fusitu'a, both converted by Johnson.

But when veteran forward Adam Blair lost possession in a tackle, Maloney turned the momentum around with a long 40-20 kick attempt that was initially saved, but eventually deflected into touch by Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Tyrone Peachey
Tyrone Peachey scores against the Warriors. Photo credit: Photosport

From the ensuing set, Penrith half Nathan Cleary set Tyrone Peachey up for the first of his three tries and from then on, the contest was virtually one-way traffic. 

Five minutes later, Maloney was the next to score, finishing off a long-range attack under the posts, for Cleary to convert and put the Panthers ahead for good.

Four minutes after that, Peachey had his second and the Warriors were just hanging on.

In the process, they lost Tuivasa-Sheck to a knee injury and were forced to shuffle their back-line, with Peta Hiku moving to fullback.

Trailling just 12-18 at half-time, the Warriors still had a sniff, if they could just score next.

But after the restart, Maloney spent 10 minutes tormenting his old team - and Hiku in particular - with his kicking game, forcing several repeat sets, before they finally cracked under the pressure.

Peachey had his third try, before Maloney cannily slotted a field goal to force the margin beyond two converted tries.

He was lucky to still be alive - let alone on the field - after he was drilled in a vicious tackle by Luke. It was one of those moments that might have sparked a flagging team to life, but Maloney simply bounced back to his feet to continue the onslaught. 

He had earlier survived a late hit from Agnatius Paasi, when kicking on the final tackle.

"We probably just hurt ourselves, trying to push a few things early," reflected Maloney afterwards. "That wasn't what we wanted, especially in these greasy conditions.

"We found our groove and once we had them in end-to-end footy, they didn't have a lot to throw back at us - they were out on their feet."

The Warriors never gave up, but ran out of time and ideas, as their season dribbled to conclusion, also ending the 301-game career of stalwart Simon Mannering. They must now regroup to take the next step in their development next season.

Penrith now progress to play the losers between Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks next week.

More to come