TWL RD 21 WRAP: WARRIORS DIG DEEP TO HOLD OFF SAINTS

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It was again a game of two halves for the rollercoaster Warriors, but this week a dominant first half followed by a heroic defensive display in the second stanza propelled them to an 18-12 triumph over St George Illawarra.

It was a stressful, often infuriating watch for Warriors fans but arguably the most rewarding 80 minutes of the season.

Replicating their gutsy tackling performance form their Round 7 upset of the Dragons, the Warriors spent virtually the entire second 40 under the pump but they showed amazing courage and composure to end a 22-year drought in Wollongong.

Their last win at WIN Stadium was against the Illawarra Steelers; the club had never beaten the Dragons at the venue.

The Warriors piled on 16 points late in the first half while Saints fullback Matt Dufty was in the sin-bin, on the back of a blistering display from captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Leading 18-0 at halftime, the Warriors were on course for a repeat of last week’s second-half meltdown on the Gold Coast thanks to a couple of uncharacteristic brain explosions from David Fusitu’a.

The visitors conceded two quick tries but managed to keep the desperate Dragons scoreless for the remaining half an hour despite spending most of it camped on their own line. Adam Blair was particularly prominent as the Warriors repelled wave after wave of Saints pressure.

The Warriors pushed the envelope too far at the ruck in the early minutes and conceded two penalties, while Tyson Frizell made a disturbingly soft break in centre field. But the visitors’ goal-line defence held firm.

Tuivasa-Sheck made a searing 50-metre bust of his own from a scrum win, before a maddening dummy-half dig from Solomone Kata on the last cruelled a great scoring chance. Following Paul Vaughan’s exit with a serious leg injury, a Kata double-pump then forward pass with Ken Maumalo unmarked had the enigmatic centre’s detractors on the warpath.

But aggressive defence forced the Dragons into frequent errors and the Warriors notched first points via a Shaun Johnson penalty goal at the 20-minute mark.

Outstanding completions and tight defence saw the Warriors get right on top. An opening try eluded Simon Mannering by a millisecond, but Matt Dufty – who saved the four-pointer by cleaning up a grubber – was binned for impeding Tuivasa-Sheck in the lead-up.

The Warriors posted the first try three tackles later, Isaiah Papali’i attracting three defenders and offloading for Kata to zip over in the corner.

The 12-man Saints kept back-pedalling and Jazz Tevaga capitalised with a superb offload, allowing Issac Luke to burrow in under the posts for a 14-0 halftime lead.

After a Fusitu’a drop opened the door for the Saints three minutes out from halftime, RTS added to his catalogue of remarkable try-savers to deny Tim Lafai.

The Warriors landed an enormous blow in the ensuing set as Blake Green put Kata over for his second just as Dufty returned to the action.

The Dragons came out firing after the break and another Fusitu’a gaffe – getting bundled into touch on the second tackle – gave them the opportunity to get on the scoreboard. Cameron McInnes fooled the Warriors’ markers to dot down in the 46th minute.

Fusitu’a’s disintegration continued with a first-tackle error the next time the Warriors got the ball and the Dragons struck again.

Gareth Widdop threaded a grubber that produced a try for interchange forward Luciano Leilua.

From that point on it was a tale of Dragons line-breaks, the Warriors’ inability to build any pressure, questionable penalties to the hosts and – most decisively – extraordinary scrambling defence from the visitors.

The Saints had a scrum 40 metres out from the Warriors’ line with two seconds on the clock, but fittingly Blair ironed out Jason Nightingale to confirm a gutsy victory.

St George Illawarra finished with 54 percent possession and made six line-breaks to none in the second half, while the missed tackle (31-19) and penalty counts (10-6) both finished emphatically against the Warriors.

Stephen Kearney’s hoodoo-busting outfit achieved yet another club first – besides breaking their Wollongong bogey – by notching back-to-back wins against the Dragons.

But more importantly the result keeps the Warriors four points ahead of Wests Tigers, lifts them back alongside Brisbane (and potentially Penrith and Cronulla) and leaves them just two points outside the top four.

Week-to-week consistency and momentum remains the Warriors’ biggest and most elusive task moving forward but a memorable afternoon in the ’Gong was an ideal lead-in to a home assignment against out-of-contention Newcastle next Friday night.

Warriors 18 (Solomone Kata 2, Issac Luke tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 12 (Cameron McInnes, Luciano Leilua tries; Gareth Widdop 2 goals) at WIN Stadium.

 

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