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Thoughts and talking points from the Warriors’ amazing 20-19 escape act in Canberra.

Gritty, patient, courageous etc

The Warriors were all of these things and more in an astounding comeback victory over the Raiders, fighting back from an early 12-0 deficit, a 19-6 scoreline midway through the second-half and a seven-point gap with less than four minutes to go.

An avalanche of penalties and Adam Blair’s sin-binning in the opening stages threatened to derail the Warriors’ bid to go 3-0 for the first time in their history. But the visitors regrouped and kept turning up for each other until the 80th minute, limiting the Raiders to just one try in the last 70 minutes despite missing twice as many tackles as their opponents.

They never seemed in control of the contest, but there was never any indication they were going to throw in the towel as the Raiders looked to seal the result. The Warriors’ levelheadedness was just as striking as their fortitude.

But it’s all underpinned by their vast improvement fitness-wise. The Warriors finished all over the top of the Raiders, incredibly running the ball back from the kick-off in consecutive sets to give Shaun Johnson field goal opportunities from 30 metres out.

The contention of Hamish Bidwell, the doomsayer’s doomsayer, that the Warriors’ focus on fitness is a sign they’ve run out of ideas is looking more foolish by the week.

Warriors answer close call

A lot has rightly been made about the Raiders’ abhorrent record in tight games, but it would have been a relief for Stephen Kearney and his charges to get the chocolates in a cliff-hanger.

While the Warriors’ record in matches decided by six points or less isn’t too bad (four wins in the last 10 before yesterday’s escape), they have had a knack of bottling games they had in the bag. Coming back to win from a seemingly impossible situation was another big feather in their cap.

But perhaps just as importantly, it ended a long, long hoodoo. It was the first time since 2009 the Warriors had won via a deadlock-breaking field goal. Shaun Johnson had kicked nine field goals prior to this weekend, but only one of them was the difference in a one-point win – and that was against the Titans in 2013, when he put the Warriors up 25-6 before they conceded three late tries.

A golden point strike from Stacey Jones against the Roosters was the last time a Warriors victory came courtesy of a one-pointer with the scores level; the club has lost five matches thanks to an opposition field goal since then.

Run SJ!

Shaun Johnson, aka Clutchy McClutcherson, had a hand in two tries, defended well on the try-line and then iced a remarkable win with two superb field goals. But his clutch efforts masked a slightly disappointing outing, shelving his running game after a sizzling opening fortnight and coming up with a few dud kicks.

Johnson never truly put the hammer down and took the line on, which not only was a massive let-off for the Raiders but stymied his ability to put teammates into space. From memory, he didn’t get tackled once. On the whole it was a step backwards from his brilliant performances in the opening two rounds.

Where’s that kid when you need him?

But he’s so clutch.

RTS delivers again

As promised, I will rub Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s 2017 detractors’ noses in every 2018 blinder he has like a cat that’s taken a dump on the carpet.

Not only has RTS not thrown his career away by sticking with the Warriors – as countless Aussie chumps snickered – but he’s on the way to a career-best season, better than the 2015 Roosters vintage the pundits keep pining for.

Tuivasa-Sheck came up with a pair of incredible goal-line try-savers, a try-assist and a game-high running metres tally – every touch dripping with quality. He’s the NRL’s form player by some margin and is shortening in the Dally M Medal stakes by the week, despite Daryl Halligan farcically only awarding him one point after a best-on-ground display against the Titans.

An obvious choice to take over as Kiwis skipper for the trip to Denver.

Cross to Blair

I’ve got no issue with the Adam Blair sin-binning – both for the nature of his indiscretion, and for the fact it was the Warriors’ sixth straight penalty in six minutes.

But is that the way it’s going to be policed moving forward? Blair is an easy target with an ugly track record of hitting playmakers late, but he can’t be spelled on the strength of his past crimes. Say it was Shannon Boyd ironing out Blake Green late – would he have got binned?

Still on Blair, he is starting to live up to every reservation Warriors fans had about him on the back of a poor finish to his tenure in Brisbane and a dismal World Cup campaign. His (legal) work in defence is solid enough, but a total of three runs is so far short of the mark for a marquee (pay level-wise) prop it’s not funny.

Three runs?! With Simon Mannering and Isaiah Papali’i due to come back into the Warriors’ hard-working, versatile pack, how can Stephen Kearney drop one of his industrious tyros and retain a senior front-rower that thinks three hit-ups are acceptable on a team that spent 80 minutes under the pump?

Credit where it’s due

TWL haven’t hidden our scepticism over Ken Maumalo’s and Jazz Tevaga’s claims to a regular first-grade spot. But the maligned duo were outstanding against the Raiders.

We were terrified about big Ken’s match-up with Jordan Rapana, but Maumalo made a stack of tough metres (143 in total) and was good defensively. Still a back-rower playing on the wing but a confidence-boosting day out.

Then there’s the lionhearted Tevaga, who was arguably the Warriors’ standout forward in a career-best display. A constant ball of energy, Tevaga made 32 tackles and 113 metres in an effort that demanded first-grade retention.

(Near) worst to first

Get ready to cheer on the Titans and Roosters today – if they can roll the Dragons and Knights respectively, the Warriors will finish Round 3 sitting alone at the top of the table.

What a glorious sight that would be after plumbing the depths in 2017.

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