NZ Warriors have again been on the receiving end of questionable refereeing decisions, in falling to a 26-22 defeat to Brisbane Broncos at Napier’s McLean Park.
At the end of each half in Hawke’s Bay, the Warriors had calls go against them – seeing a try by Brisbane’s Jordan Riki awarded, and a try of their own to Marcelo Montoya disallowed.
While Riki’s try wasn’t referred to the Bunker and was awarded on the field, Montoya’s effort was ruled out as Adam Pompey was judged to have interfered with Brisbane winger Deine Mariner.
And after the NRL was forced to deny an unconscious bias against the Warriors, Saturday’s events will only add to Kiwi frustrations with officials in 2023.
Defeat leaves the Warriors seventh on the NRL ladder, but could be overtaken by both Canberra Raiders and Manly Sea Eagles, depending on results going against them.
The Broncos meanwhile move to the top of the table, in a huge boost for a side missing five players to State of Origin duty.
Despite the Warriors coming out of the blocks with the better chances, the Broncos’ defence held in the opening spell – saving four tries in the opening 40 minutes.
Twice were the Warriors denied by rookie Broncos fullback Tristan Sailor, who made two try-saving tackles, stopping both Rocco Berry and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak from opening the scoring with last-ditch defence.
And to rub salt into the Warriors’ wounds, rookie Kiwi winger Mariner raced 90 metres to score the first points of the night, capitalising on a misplaced pass from Warriors debutant Luke Metcalf for the opening try.
Watene-Zelezniak saw another try disallowed, as his foot was in touch after a Johnson bomb, while hooker Freddy Lussick was also denied when Martin Tapau stopped him grounding in goal.
But with minutes left in the first half, Watene-Zelezniak finally got the Warriors on the board, darting over in the corner after a free-flowing move on the right edge started by Johnson and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
However, controversy struck at the end of the first spell, when Riki was awarded a try – despite a clear forward pass from hooker Billy Walters.
With the bunker not allowed to overrule the on-field call, the try stood, the Broncos took a 12-6 lead at the break, and Warriors fans will again have an axe to grind over the standard of refereeing against their teams.
After the break, the Warriors were hit by the loss of Lussick to a failed concussion test, while Nicoll-Klokstad was removed from play for a head knock, but passed his assessment.
In their absence, five-eighth Ezra Mam put the Broncos ahead even further when he was sent over by halves partner Adam Reynolds, as the Warriors fell 18-6 down.
A further penalty had the Warriors down 20-6, and needing to score three times in the final 20 minutes for any hope of victory.
The Kiwi side got one back, as Watene-Zelezniak was on the receiving end of good fortune – as a miraculous bat-back from Johnson fell the winger’s way.
But under sustained attacking pressure from the Broncos, the Warriors wilted once more, as Sailor put Mariner in for his second try of the night, and put Brisbane ahead 26-10 inside the final 10 minutes.
Back on the field after passing his concussion test Nicoll-Klokstad helped take the Warriors within 10 points, before Pompey assisted Montoya on the left flank to bring the scores to 26-22.
Needing to go the length of the field in the last minute, the Warriors looked to have gotten out of jail again – only for what appeared to be Montoya’s winner to be ruled out by the Bunker, and condemn the Kiwi side to their sixth loss of the year.
NZ Warriors 22 (Watene-Zelezniak 2, Nicoll-Klokstad, Montoya tries; Johnson 3 conversions)
Brisbane Broncos 26 (Mariner 2, Riki, Mam tries; Reynolds 4 conversions; Reynolds penalty)