TWL RD 21 WRAP: WARRIORS DOWN MANLY IN STUNNING BOUNCE-BACK

The Warriors have yet again found a way to confound the rugby league world. Just a week after an inexplicably listless 34-point loss to Canberra, the under-fire club overcame a host of injuries, a record-equalling home losing streak, and a hoodoo against a Manly side in red-hot form to produce its best victory of 2019.

The 24-16 final scoreline did not tell the story of the Warriors’ dominance in the Auckland wet. The Sea Eagles had no answer to the hosts’ resolute goal-line defence until the farcical 67th-minute sin-binning of Adam Blair allowed them to run in three quick tries and set up a nail-biting finish.

But the Warriors, who scored three spectacular four-pointers to lead 18-0 at halftime, held their nerve to close out their first win at Mt Smart since April and keep their faint finals hopes afloat with a late Jazz Tevaga try.

Meanwhile, in a gritty, wholehearted team performance, a 20-year-old rookie half stood head-and-shoulders above everyone on the paddock.

Chanel Harris-Tavita demanded starting line-up inclusion going forward with a sensational performance at five-eighth. Two brilliant try-assists and punishing defensive plays were the headline moments, but his involvement and ability to steer the Warriors around were also outstanding.

In complete contrast to last week’s debacle, the Warriors’ energy and intent on both sides of the ball was apparent from the outset.

Wonderful vision and execution from Harris-Tavita put the ball on a dime for Ken Maumalo, who showed breath-taking poise and superb hands to reel in the footy and dive over in the corner in the seventh minute.

After withstanding a Manly attacking onslaught, the Warriors took a 10-0 lead in the 22nd minute.

Addin Fonu-Blake fumbled Blake Green’s chip-kick 10 metres out from the Sea Eagles’ line, before a trailing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck toed ahead and tunnel-balled a pass to Ligi Sao, who showed fingertip control to bag his first NRL try since 2015.

The meagre crowd of 9,595 was in full voice when the Warriors crossed for their third try only a few minutes later.

Slick handling from Adam Blair and Harris-Tavita put Maumalo into space and the big winger defied Tom Trbojevic’s try-saving tackle attempt with an excellent finish.

Big Ken, who managed just 14 tries in 64 games before this season, surged back to the top of the NRL tryscoring charts with his 16th touchdown of the year.

CHT-mania went into overdrive when the young pivot pole-axed Tom Trbojevic and brought the superstar fullback’s counterattacking run to a shuddering halt.

More goal-line desperation ensured the Sea Eagles finished the first half without opening their account, while Harris-Tavita added a penalty goal to the Warriors’ tally just before the break.

Attacking opportunities were scarce for the Warriors in the second stanza, but their thirst for defence only got stronger.

Dummy-half interchange Adam Keighran mimicked Harris-Tavita’s first-half effort by cutting Tom Trbojevic in half with a powerful tackle. CHT stepped things up a notch by rushing out of the line to put a shot on Fonua-Blake.

But what shaped as a victory lap with time running out descended into a nerve-shredding finish after another refereeing shocker at the Warriors’ expense.

Manly put a grubber through to the Warriors’ in-goal, Blair stopped on his run without changing his line and Sea Eagles hooker Manase Fainu – who would not have got close to scoring in any case – ran into the back of him.

Bunker official Henry Perenara not only found a ridiculous penalty, but advised whistle-blower Ben Cummins (whose lopsided manner when talking to rival skippers Tuivasa-Sheck and Daly Cherry-Evans earlier left fans at the stadium and watching at home irate) to sit Blair down for 10 minutes.

The Warriors’ resolve on their own line fell apart with one player – and one of their key defensive pieces – short, conceding three tries in just seven minutes.

Joel Thompson crossed first for the Sea Eagles, before rookie winger Reuben Garrick bagged a quick-fire double. Garrick nailed sideline goals to convert both of his own tries after hitting the post with his first attempt, cutting the deficit to just two points.

But an inexcusable forward pass from Manly hooker Api Koroisau – not exactly an ideal audition in front of a club reportedly chasing him on a $1.5 million three-year deal – stopped the comeback in its tracks.

His opposite number, Jazz Tevaga, mixed a bit of dummy-half guile with pure desire to burrow over for the match-sealer.

With matches against the Roosters and Sharks away, the Rabbitohs at home and the Raiders away to come, the Warriors’ prospects of reaching the finals are still not too flash.

But as teams stumble around them – the Sharks, Knights and Tigers all dropped crucial games in Round 21 – the door is ever so slightly ajar. Three wins from their last four might be enough.

Perhaps an even bigger obstacle than their upcoming top-shelf opposition is the fact the Warriors’ form one week is rarely a reliable indicator for how they will go the next. For now, though, there’s no harm basking in the side’s finest display of a difficult campaign.

Warriors 24 (Ken Maumalo 2, Ligi Sao, Jazz Tevaga tries; Chanel Harris-Tavita 4 goals) defeated Manly Sea Eagles 16 (Reuben Garrick 2, Joel Thompson tries; Garrick 3 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. This Warriors Life man of the match: Chanel Harris-Tavita.

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