A THREE-MATCH losing skid consisting of a could-have, a should-have, and a didn't-even-look-like-it, has left the Warriors facing a sizeable "if".
They could have beaten the Roosters and should have beaten the Tigers. Now, after another horrible night in Townsville against the Cowboys, they face a stretch of home games that will define their season.
If they don't bank a sizeable points haul from a run of fixtures that includes four out of five games at home - and just one match over that span against a current top-eight side - they will be as good as done this year.
This Sunday's match against a Storm side that moved to the top of the NRL ladder with yesterday's win over the Tigers is the first of three consecutive home matches.
After a round-17 bye, the Warriors host the last-placed Titans, followed by a Bulldogs side that have slumped to ninth after losing four of their past five matches..
There's an away trip to the 11th-placed Rabbitohs, then the Warriors return home to face a Raiders side that sit second-last with just three wins to their name.
No doubt Ivan Cleary's side will be adhering to a one-step-at-a-time mantra, but those steps need to be in the right direction.
Saturday night's loss to the Cowboys was in many respects a giant leap backwards. After leading 10-8 at halftime, thanks to a Shaun Johnson try that evoked memories of Stacey Jones in his prime, the Warriors simply collapsed. Given that they tend to end just about every visit to Dairy Farmers Stadium in need of serious resuscitation, there was nothing surprising about their capitulation.
Their completion rate was a horrendous 59 per cent. As a result they were forced to make a whopping 116 more tackles than the Cowboys. The 50 they missed will have done nothing to improve their unwanted standing near the top of that statistical category. Only the defensively challenged Rabbitohs miss more tackles each match.
Johnson' s performance was perhaps the biggest conundrum for the Warriors. The 20-year-old scored one of the tries of the season with a searing 60m break direct from a scrum, and could have added another had he trusted his pace and attacked Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen on the outside when he again slashed though on the stroke of halftime.
Johnson also defended well, pulling off a couple of impressive tackles, one of which definitely saved a try. His upside is tremendous. His pace and line-breaking ability add another dimension to the side.
But the fact remains that Johnson's call-up has coincided with three consecutive defeats. Before his elevation the club won five games straight. How much blame for the collapse of the team's offensive structure in the second half against the Cowboys lies at Johnson's feet is hard to say. Certainly, direction and leadership appeared lacking as the team fumbled and bumbled its way to a convincing defeat.
Johnson is undoubtedly the halfback of the future. The question is whether a team with its season now on the line can tolerate the growing pains as the rookie finds his feet.
Veteran playmaker Brett Seymour will never possess Johnson's upside, but he is a steadying presence and was in decent form before suffering a fractured cheekbone in the round-12 victory over the Rabbitohs.
Seymour has returned to training and should be available for selection this week. Whether or not his name appears on the team sheet tomorrow will reveal plenty about how Cleary plans to tackle the pivotal month ahead.
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