TWL RD 7 WRAP: COURAGEOUS WARRIORS PIPPED IN ANZAC DAY CLASSIC

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The hollow feeling of a heartbreaking defeat when you arguably deserve to win sure beats the angry disappointment that follows a loss in a game you’ve thrown away.

That’s the silver lining after the Melbourne Storm edged the Warriors 13-12 in a gripping clash befitting of the Anzac Day rivalry between the clubs.

Written off all week and derided for some odds selection calls, the Warriors were little short of heroic with a patched-up side, leading the Storm for 65 minutes before being beaten by a questionable penalty call and a late Brodie Croft field goal.

Fullback Peta Hiku and halfback Tohu Harris were two of the best players on the paddock, while centre Patrick Herbert was phenomenal in his maiden NRL outing. To a man, the forward pack stood up to the revered Storm unit with tireless displays dripping with desire.

Polish and direction in the playmaking roles proved crucial as the match wound down – but given the ongoing absence of Blake Green (not to mention Roger Tuivasa-Sheck) that was forgivable.

A bright opening on both sides of the ball from the Warriors – and an uncharacteristic error from the Storm coming out of their own territory – saw the visitors grab a 2-0 lead after five minutes via Chanel Harris-Tavita’s boot.

Then the opening try from the unlikeliest of sources: captain Harris, a heavily-criticised halves option, showed tremendous sleight of hand to put the relentlessly-maligned Adam Blair through a hole and over to score.

A pressure-relieving try in myriad ways, concocted by a pair of ex-Melbourne stars.

Blake Ayshford, playing his first NRL match in 20 months, bombed a try after inventive lead-up work by fullback fill-in Peta Hiku and Ken Maumalo at the 15-minute mark.

It shaped as a crucial let-off, and after admirably soaking up several waves of Melbourne pressure the Warriors conceded when Cameron Munster snapped up Josh Addo-Carr’s volleyball-esque bat-back of his bomb.

The Warriors camped down on the Storm’s line for three sets but had few ideas and another Ayshford fumble ended the threat to the hosts.

The Storm dominated territory for the remainder of the half but the Warriors’ desperate defence kept them at bay to take a scarcely believable 8-4 lead into halftime.

Virtually every stat-line was even, except for the Warriors leading significantly in the offloads (7 to 3) and tackle effectiveness (92.4% to 85.4%) departments – as well as producing the only line-break of the opening 40.

But the Tohu Harris halves gamble that looked to be a masterstroke in the first half came unstuck at the end of the first set in the second. A rubbish last-tackle kick immediately invited the Storm into their territory and a brilliant Cameron Smith grubber served up a go-ahead try for fullback Jahrome Hughes.

But a bizarre – but correct – six-again ruling gave the Warriors a chance to reply in the 48th minute.

Hiku continued a wonderful performance from the back with a great long ball to send Maumalo over untouched.

Harris-Tavita’s conversion attempt hit the woodwork, leaving the scoreline at 12-10.

The Warriors spent much of the middle part of the second stanza under the pump. They appeared fatigued, their kicking game fell apart, they started conceding penalties, struggled to make any inroads and were pinned on their own try-line regularly.

But again their defensive resolve came to the fore. Blair, Papali’i and Herbert came up with some massive stops to keep the Storm at bay.

A highly contentious penalty against Papali’i after what seemed a straightforward Nelson Asofa-Solomona play-the-ball gaffe allowed Munster to level the scores at 12-all with four minutes left from an easy position.

The Storm rumbled down-field from the kick-off and Brodie Croft landed the field goal dagger from 33 metres out, deflecting it through off an upright.

The Storm parlayed their one-point lead into two of the hardest-earned competition points they will come by in 2019.

The 2016-18 grand finalists were well below their best and their championship qualities won the day eventually, but the clear takeaway was the Warriors’ overachieving, inspirational performance.

Incredibly, Melbourne finished without a line-break, despite ultimately edged ahead in virtually every other key stat area.

Herbert was immense – he simply must be retained after the best debut in the club’s history.

The engine-room effort was phenomenal. Even Blair’s one-run showing could be forgiven somewhat given some of his cover defence in the second half.

The key is using this match as a platform, because at 2-5 they need wins quickly. But that level of guts – combined with the experience and class of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Blake Green – will take the Warriors back towards where they want to be.

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