TWL RD 9 WRAP: BLACK MAGIC! WARRIORS SINK SAINTS TO SAVE SEASON

There is fight after all. And, just maybe, there is hope.

The Warriors produced a Magic Round performance that fans will cherish for many years to come; based on the previous eight rounds, it was a veritable landmark display to overwhelm St George Illawarra 26-18.

The Dragons led 18-6 midway through the second half and the signs were ominous as the Warriors struggled to shut down their opponents’ lively attack. But they gained some traction in the period before halftime and parlayed that momentum into an extraordinary second-half effort, scoring 20 unanswered points.

The Warriors completed 30 of 33 sets, while their defence went from threadbare to top-shelf. Their late-game temperament was outstanding after only hitting the front with 10 minutes left.

Ken Maumalo and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck were monumental, while Tohu Harris and electric supersub Karl Lawton were not far behind. But the entire 17 contributed strongly, with Kodi Nikorima’s understated but highly effective club debut providing mouth-watering signs for the future.

After a physical, high-energy start from the Warriors, the Dragons struck the first scoreboard blow in the sixth minute.

Tyson Frizell claimed a pinpoint Ben Hunt bomb and showed excellent poise to pop a ball up for centre Zac Lomax, who dived over from close range and converted his own try for 6-0.

The Saints opened up the Warriors through the middle in their ensuing possession.

Superb interplay from rep front-rowers James Graham and Paul Vaughan put quicksilver Jai Field – playing his first run-on game in the NRL as Corey Norman’s replacement – into space. The five-eighth torched Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to finish a 50-metre try untouched.

The Warriors hit back in the 14th minute on the back of a penalty.

Deft dummy-half work from Nathaniel Roache near the St George Illawarra line allowed Agnatius Paasi to power over. Taking on the goalkicking duties with Chanel Harris-Tavita and Issac Luke out of the side, Patrick Herbert slotted his first shot at NRL level from handy position.

Allowing a bomb to bounce blew up in the Warriors’ face, but a tremendous try-saver by Ken Maumalo on Lomax ultimately limited the damage to two points. Lomax knocked a penalty goal over from out wide to edge the Dragons six in front.

But the Saints’ second-phase play and army of light-stepping small men was killing the Warriors. They marched down-field again from the restart before Cameron McInnes embarrassed opposing hooker Roache by barging over under the posts for his side’s third try.

Isaiah Papali’i’s brilliant offload almost put RTS away for a much-needed try, but a dud kick from Blake Green at the end of the set piggy-backed the Dragons back down to the Warriors’ end.

But the stretched Warriors managed to survive three back-to-back defensive sets.

The had chances to narrow the gap before halftime but couldn’t ice them. Green’s clunky play and some poor options from Herbert stymied some promising raids.

Given they battled away with just 40 percent possession, the Warriors could easily have been behind by considerably more. A 13-from-15 completion rate and some scrambling without the ball kept them in the frame as the teams headed to the sheds.

Crucially, the Warriors were the first to get on the board in the second stanza.

A Roache break and sparkling grubber-and-chase from Maumalo earned an early repeat set, before Nikorima’s pace opened up some space for Hiku, who beat Lomax to reach out for his third try of 2019.

Herbert drilled the sideline conversion for an encouraging 18-12 scoreline.

The momentum shift was palpable, with errors and penalties creeping into the Dragons’ game. The leveller came in the 59th minute.

A great ball from Tuivasa-Sheck and breathtaking quick hands from Herbert on a last-tackle short-side raid saw David Fusitu’a zip in for just his second try of the season. Herbert’s cool conversion locked it up.

A horrific fumble of a line drop-out from Ben Hunt effectively provided the Warriors with the lead for the first time with 10 minutes to go.

Again on the last play, a slick switch from Green to RTS caught the Dragons’ short. Harris and Hiku kept calm heads to send Maumalo over. Herbert’s conversion cannoned off the post to restrict the lead to a tenuous four points.

A (barely) 50-50 call denied Maumalo a match-sealing double, but the Warriors put it beyond doubt with a minute to go after another dummy-half break from Karl Lawton.

Magnificent pass from Harris and Nikorima – incredibly, again on the last tackle – allowed Hiku to cruise over for the easiest of tries.

A 20-0 second half built on a supreme defensive effort, just one uncompleted set and the best adlib attack the Warriors have produced all year.

They replicated the level of commitment and desperation they produced against Melbourne on Anzac Day and coupled it with poise that has been missing in every tight game they have played in so far.

Several players – particularly Lawton and Sao – demanded inclusion next week. A worrying (possibly a recurrence?) back injury to Roache certainly opens the door for Lawton to play a huge role in the Warriors’ 2019 campaign.

Despite a second straight dusty display from Green, there was more than enough to suggest that he and Nikorima are a great halves match, capable of pointing this team towards the finals if the forward pack in front of them produce similar collective performances more often than not.

Whether it’s a flash in the pan or a platform for a mid-season revival depends on next week and the week after. But, for now, damn that feels good!

 

 

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