NRL 2022: Second-half comeback can't paper over NZ Warriors' shortcomings, says coach Nathan Brown

Coach Nathan Brown has refused to let the Warriors' late comeback against South Sydney Rabbitohs act as a smokescreen for the dire first half that left the game out of their reach.

Porous defence - especially on the edges - and an impotent attack saw the Warriors fall into a 26-0 hole in little over 30 minutes at at a soggy Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, conjuring unwanted memories of a certain Melbourne Storm massacre. 

But to their credit, the Warriors - inspired by another virtuoso performance by Reece Walsh - found their offensive stride, pulling to within two points with less than two minutes remaining, before eventually falling short of a comeback for the ages in a 32-20 defeat.

But as far as Brown was concerned, it was a situation in which they never should have found themselves.

"We can look at it two ways," Brown said after the game. "We can look at the comeback and nearly getting there. I think we dropped it over the line a couple of times in the second half.

"Or I could focus on the first half and, to be honest, as a coach, I've got to focus more on what happened in the first half, because that’s certainly not where you want to be as a football club.

Warriors coach Nathan Brown.
Warriors coach Nathan Brown. Photo credit: Photosport

Refusing to let the late run paper over the cracks of the opening half, Brown rued yet another slow start that's become symptomatic of their season.

"We don't want to be a team that doesn't start games well, ends up a fair way behind on the scoreboard, then has a great fightback but gets beat," he added. "I would be disappointed if that's what we become.

"We started poor and that's what we need to be worried about.

"We started the first two or three sets quite well and our middle forwards were front loading their energy and putting a lot into it. But then we had a 15-minute block where [Rabbitohs] scoring was just far too easy."

Brown pointed to an encouraging opening effort in which Shaun Johnson used his kicking game to force a couple of repeat sets on the back of some hard running from his pack, only to let the Rabbitohs off the hook with an early kick and mistakes to open the door for the Rabbitohs to seize the momentum.

"If you looked at the start of the game, the effort the forwards were putting in, in particular some of our bigger middle blokes," Brown said.

"Then we get into the cycle where we turn the ball over. We went for the early kick and they got it back early, then we never had the ball for 14-15 minutes.

"So the line speed comes as a product of the fatigue, where if you look at the second half of the game when we caused an arm wrestle, you could see it with their forwards and line speed.

"How did we go through the middle then? It looked like two different football teams.

"They looked tired and didn’t have line speed and we looked like we had much more juice, which we did."

The result means the Warriors have lost four of their past five games - their lone win was a scrappy and unconvincing golden point victory over Canberra Raiders - dropping them to 10th on the NRL ladder.

Brown singled out Jazz Tevaga - who he said had his "best game I've seen him play at the club" and Matt Lodge for praise but couldn't hide the disappointment of another underwhelming performance he feared is becoming a habit.

"In the past month I don’t really like what I've seen as a footy club, if I’m being honest," Brown said.

"The first six or seven weeks we showed we'd made some good progress on last year, then we've had a few setbacks lately.

"We've had a number of personnel changes through injuries, which a lot of clubs have had, and we do end up with some younger blokes out there at times next to each other, which can prove difficult.

"But that first 25 minutes, that product is not where we want to be."

The Warriors will have a chance to right the ship against St George Dragons next weekend, who beat them 28-16 in their season opener back in March.