NRL: NZ Warriors frustrated after Napier match against Broncos blighted by 'really annoying' pitch invaders

It's taken 28 years for NZ Warriors to play an NRL game in Napier and Hawke's Bay fans may be waiting just as long for their next visit, after persistent pitch invaders marred their showdown with Brisbane Broncos.

Play at McLean Park was halted on several occasions, as members of the soldout crowd continuously vaulted the advertising hoardings and ran onto the field, stretching security staff to their limit.

Despite repeated warnings from the ground announcer, spectators continued to to take their turn challenging ground staff, while players from both teams could only stand by, hands on hips. One member of the crowd claimed they'd counted 26 people who'd chanced their arm with security.

Most of the incidents occurred during the second half, when the Warriors were attempting to mount a late comeback against the visiting Broncos. Facing a 16-point deficit with less than five minutes to play, they ran in two late tries to pull within four points. 

With a minute to play, Marcelo Montoya crossed for a try that seemed to give Shaun Johnson a chance to convert from the sideline for an unlikely win, but centre Adam Pompey held the jersey of Broncos back Deine Mariner to prevent him making a tackle and the try was rubbed out, consigning the Warriors to a 26-22 defeat.

Another pitch invader tackled by security.
Another pitch invader tackled by security. Photo credit: Photosport

Warriors captain and Hastings product Tohu Harris admits the persistent delays were frustrating, allowing their opponents timely opportunities to catch their breaths, while trying to hold off the Warriors' late salvo.

"It gets really annoying to be honest, especially when we're trying to build ourselves back into the game," said Harris. "It just burns, knowing that the other team is getting a rest, when we just want to keep going at them and keep trying to build pressure.

"It's not ideal… but something we can't control and we just have to make sure we're ready to go once play starts again.

"I'm glad we got ourselves back into the game, but pitch invasions... we really can't do anything about them."

The match was the second NRL contest in Napier, after Harris' Melbourne Storm visited in 2015 to face St George Dragons.

The Napier crowd was up in arms after Montoya's late try was disallowed, but coach Andrew Webster has no issues with the ruling, using it as an example of one of many decisive moments his team failed to capitalise on against a Broncos side without five of its best players, due to State of Origin duty.

"I think he might have done it, so no complaints," said Webster. "That sums us up tonight, I think.

"I'm not thrown at all at that moment, but we had a million of those moments that we didn't own and that just summed us up."

The Warriors had the upper hand in most of the key statistical areas, running more than 175 metres more than their adversaries, but they were let down by errors, often of their own creation.

A prime example was Montoya's fumble off a poor Luke Metcalf pass while hot on attack that led to a breakaway try at the other end.

The hosts managed to cross the chalk three times in the first half, but were denied tries by superb desperation defence from an inexperienced Broncos line-up.

"We won almost every single stat… but the ones where you've got to make your tackles, line breaks and tries," Webster noted. "Our DNA all year has been we defend those - and we didn't, so that last play wasn't the biggest moment.

"It was just one of many, but it came down to that."

While proud of the way his side fought back, Harris echoes his coach's sentiments, ruing their inability to cash in on their upper hand in the physical stakes.

The Warriors pack had the advantage through the all-important middle third of the park, but the team struggled to breach the organised Broncos defence in the redzone.

"We still gave ourselves a chance, but like Webby said, when you're on top physically like that, it really shouldn't come down to the last play. 

"We need to do a better job at those moments. Those key moments really impacted the game and, to be honest, they're easy fixes, and they shouldn't have happened

"We gave ourselves a lot of opportunities, but again, we just didn't ice those certain moments and probably weren't as patient as we could've been."

The Warriors lost hooker Freddy Lussick, after a failed head injury assessment, which will rule him out of next weekend's clash with the Dolphins.

The result drops the Warriors to eighth on the NRL ladder, although Manly Sea Eagles could leapfrog them with a win over Newcastle Knights on Sunday.