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The Warriors gave up a 12-point lead with 20 minutes to go in a 28-24 loss to South Sydney in a historic Central Coast clash – but the team undeniably produced its most important statement of 2019 to date.

Blake Green’s injury withdrawal minutes before kick-off threw his side’s preparation into disarray, but second-gamer Chanel Harris-Tavita showed extraordinary confidence and composure in his stead and the Warriors came up with a backs-to-the-wall performance of the highest order.

Tohu Harris and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck were phenomenal. But the ad hoc genius of Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker, whose four tries included a 78th-minute match-winner, ultimately proved the difference.

Tuivasa-Sheck almost laid on the first try in the eighth minute after slicing through the South Sydney defensive line, but his brilliant flick offload for David Fusitu’a was called forward.

The skipper wasted little getting his team on the board, however, weaving through heavy traffic to dot down under the posts.

The Warriors looked to have gone back-to-back when Harris-Tavita latched onto a Tohu Harris kick and toed ahead for Maumalo to score, but the rookie half was adjudged offside by the Bunker.

The visitors’ dominance of opening 20 minutes was not reflected on the scoreboard – and that was soon compounded when Cody Walker bagged two tries in the space of three minutes, the second from a dazzling Damian Cook break, to give the Rabbitohs a 12-6 lead with 17 minutes until halftime.

Things were threatening to get away from the Warriors, until Ken Maumalo’s attracted a trademark penalty with a quick play-the-ball.

During the subsequent set – on the back of a superb Lachlan Burr offload – Jazz Tevaga powered over for a determined try under the sticks to level scores.

The Warriors warded off a few Rabbitohs attacking raids late in the first half and started the second in ideal style.

Harris steamed onto a Harris-Tavita pass and stepped through for the underdogs’ third try and an 18-12 lead.

Their momentum resembled the 2018 campaign at its best.

Adam Blair and Solomone Kata combined to create a chance for a barnstorming Sam Lisone, who slammed the ball down for his second NRL try.

A succession of chances to really sink the boot in went to waste for the Warriors in the ensuing period – including a CHT forward pass off a scrum win near Souths’ line – and their heavyweight opponents turned the tide.

Walker played a key hand in sending Ethan Lowe over in the 61st minute, then crossed for his third try of the afternoon to lock up the scoreboard again with eight minutes left, benefitting from the dummy-half speed of Cook.

Both sides missed chances at a go-ahead field goal. Harris-Tavita impressed with his confidence in stepping up to take a shot for the Warriors, but his swipe slid to the left of the posts and provided Souths with a seven-tackle set.

The exhauseted Warriors defence charged down Adam Reynolds. But from a fresh set, Walker sensationally reached to (allegedly) take a piece of the chalk and become the match-winning, four-try hero.

Agonising? For sure. But the heart and desperation they showed after pre-game setbacks and under duress was a huge fillip for Stephen Kearney and Warriors fans. All we can ask for is maximum effort; we got that and plenty more.

Harris-Tavita is the future. Tohu Harris reaffirmed his status as one of the NRL’s premier back-rowers. Tuivasa-Sheck is a freak of nature. And several supposed plodders – headlined by top-value recruit Lachlan Burr – played well above their station.

The jury was out after a patchy first four rounds. But our verdict is in – and this team showed they are top-eight material in 2019.

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