TWL RD 16 WRAP: WARRIORS REVIVAL SINKS DEPLETED KNIGHTS

At halftime the angry mob was readying the pitchforks for a Monday morning march on the Warriors’ Penrose headquarters.

But a second-half U-turn put the embattled side on course for a 24-20 win over a severely-depleted Newcastle Knights to at least stay in the Top 8 conversation for another week.

The Warriors trailed 12-2 after an opening half riddled with offensive incompetence. But they put the pop-gun attack away and returned from the sheds with bazookas, running four second-half tries past the hosts.

Sam Lisone bagged the match-winner in the 76th minute.

The result has to be tempered by the absence of the Knights’ four Origin side, plus the injured Kalyn Ponga. But the Warriors also overcame several dusty calls – two that led to Newcastle tries and another that denied the Warriors a fair one – and a couple of injury setbacks to clinch the two points.

Typically enormous performances from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and two-try hero Ken Maumalo, as well as a ball-on-a-string display in the second half by Blake Green (who had a first-half shocker), were critical against a team missing their big guns. With a try and a pair of superb assists, Peta Hiku was also instrumental for the victors, while Agnatius Paasi was a powerful force up front.

A high-quality Warriors start was spoiled by a woeful error near the Knights’ line, with a poor Kodi Nikorima pass hitting the deck. Subsequent back-to-back penalties allowed the Knights to grab a 2-0 lead via ex-Warrior Mason Lino’s boot.

The visitors’ physicality in defence and good go-forward set up a string of early attacking chances, but Ken Maumalo made an uncharacteristic tackle one mistake in front of Newcastle’s posts.

After a baffling dummy-half run from Gerard Beale near the Knights’ line on the last tackle predictably came up empty, the Warriors levelled up through a 16th-minute penalty goal from Issac Luke, who entered the fray for an injured Karl Lawton seconds earlier.

The offence appear to belatedly click in the 20th minute as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Beale combined to send David Fusitu’a over, but an unfortunate Nikorima knock-on was detected by the Bunker.

Soft – perhaps unlucky – penalties against Newcastle kept inviting the Warriors back into prime field position. Lack of imagination and sloppy execution continued to let them down, however.

Then after a very questionable six-again call in Lino’s favour, the Knights posted the first try 12 minutes out from halftime. Sione Mata’utia steamed onto a sweet pass from second-row partner Lachlan Fitzgibbon score his sixth try in nine career games against the Warriors.

The Warriors capped off arguably their worst opening 40 minutes of the season in a style that would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic for the club’s fans.

Knights centre powerhouse Jesse Ramien made a 40-metre bust in the dying seconds of the half, before Fusitu’a’s inability to clean up a kick on the siren saw Lachlan Fitzgibbon dot down for a 12-2 lead.

Penalties put the Warriors straight onto the front foot in the opening minutes of the second half and provided a pressure-relieving breakthrough.

Following an old-fashioned runaround from Blake Green and Adam Blair, Peta Hiku ran a beautiful line to cut through and score behind the posts.

The revival gathered steam with Hiku again prominent, displaying lightning-quick hands to send Ken Maumalo over out wide.

Luke’s conversion drifted wide to leave the scoreboard locked up at 12-all.

But another Maumalo error led to the Knights immediately reclaiming the lead with Lino’s third goal.

Newcastle persisted with giving away cheap penalties, however, and the transformed Warriors hit the front for the first time in the 56th minute.

Breath-taking hands from Blair, Nikorima and Hiku provided another chance for Maumalo, who produced an outstanding diving finish for his third double of the season.

 

Astonishingly, after scoring just 14 tries in 64 games prior to this season, Maumalo joined Parramatta’s Mika Sivo at the top of the NRL’s tryscoring charts with his 12th of 2019.

The Warriors onslaught continued, but Big Ken was denied a maiden career hat-trick by a wildly controversial – and crucial – no-try call by the Bunker with 15 minutes to go.

Maybe a square-up for the Fusitu’a howler last week?

The decision was compounded in the 70th minute by more referee incompetence. Ramien KO’d Hiku with a big charge, but the referees refused to hold play up and Mata’utia scythed through for his second – complete with swan-dive – off a deft Herman Ese’ese pass.

Lino converted from in front to edge the Knights 20-18 ahead.

The Warriors found the match-winner through the unlikeliest of sources with four minutes on the clock.

Newcastle fullback Connor Watson failed to contain a grubber from Green, whose short kicking game had the Knights on the rack throughout the second half, and Sam Lisone picked up the rebound to plunge over.

An inexplicable play-the-ball error gave the Knights a last-minute opportunity to snatch the game, while the Warriors were forced to defend a post-siren play with Agnatius Paasi in the sin-bin.

But they survived for a desperately needed two points.

And there’s still a glimmer. Four points outside the eight in a bottom-heavy competition leaves the finals door ever-so-ajar, despite an unflattering 6-9 record – though wins over the Broncos in Brisbane and Sharks in Wellington in the next fortnight are absolutely essential.

The second-half turnaround – particularly in attack – certainly provides some significant positives, but if the Warriors don’t keep that performance in perspective they will get their pants pulled down.

 

 

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