NRL: NZ Warriors rue first-half shortcomings in heartbreaking defeat to Melbourne Storm

Amid the hype surrounding a stupendous matchwinning effort from Melbourne Storm winger Xavier Coates, NZ Warriors must come to terms with losing the same game, not just once, but twice, when they seemed headed for another famous victory under coach Andrew Webster.

Trailling 18-6 at halftime, the Auckland side seemed destined for another in a long line of disappointing losses to the NRL powerhouse at their AAMI Park fortress. This didn't feel like the 70-10 shallacking of Anzac Day 2022, but there was a feeling of resignation that this may not end well.

For the next 37 minutes, the visitors dominated their rivals, piling on 20 points that put them beyond a converted try, and only needed to close out the contest for their first win of the new season.

Warriors shellshocked after their last-gasp defeat to Melbourne.
Warriors shellshocked after their last-gasp defeat to Melbourne. Photo credit: Photosport

In those last three minutes, the Warriors conceded two converted tries, the last a gravity-defying cornerflag effort from Coates that must already contend for 'Try of the Season', but risks being forgotten amongst the hyperbole of the next seven months. 

After the dust settles, Webster isn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

"Obviously, it's gut-wrenching," he offered. "It's one of those ones that hurts, there are parts of me that are so proud and there are parts that I want the boys to realise, if they do that for 80 minutes, we wouldn't be in that situation at the end of the game.

"When you've got a winger who can jump over a skyscraper and put the ball down in the corner, it's pretty amazing, but it's hard to cheer them, when you're feeling this way." 

After their breakthrough 2023 season under their rookie coach, the Warriors hoped to carry that momentum into the current campaign, but are now reeling from consecutive losses - the first coming against Cronulla Sharks at a soldout Go Media Stadium.

They face a short turnaround, before travelling to Christchurch to face surprising tabletoppers Canberra Raiders, with coach Ricky Stuart still bristling from perceived past injustices at the hands of the Warriors. 

"When you put all your physical and emotions into two performances, and you don't get what you want - particularly the one tonight right on the siren - it's going to test you," reflected Webster.

"It's going to test what we're about as a team, as a club, and how much are we willing to put our energey into winning every day next week, and then go and get the two points. We're going to Christchurch and a full house of our fans, and it's up to us to attack the week.

"We can't sook for long."

Captain Tohu Harris is less emotional about the outcome.

Xavier Coates scores his miracle try against the Warriors.
Xavier Coates scores his miracle try against the Warriors. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We didn't do ourselves any favours in that first half, especially the first 20," he said. "We felt like we gave them too much cheap possession and field territory, and we were too passive with our contact - little things like that added up to them getting a real fast start on us.

"We spoke about getting ourselves back into the game by doing all those little things - the little efforts, the physical stuff - getting them right and building our game off the back of that. I thought we really did that well in the second half, but you give a quality side a start like that and it was too much.

"We did a really good job of getting ourselves back into the game and giving ourselves a chance to win."

Ironically, one of those little effort plays probably cost the Warriors victory. In the final seconds, Storm five-eighth Jonah Pezet stepped back beyond 40 metres for a two-point field goal attempt, which was charged down by Warriors prop Mitch Barnett.

Melbourne regained possession and a fresh set of six that resulted in Coates' try.

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