TWL RD 3: INSPIRED WARRIORS’ NEAR-PERFECT RESTART

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The goodwill emanating from every corner of the rugby league fraternity for the Warriors’ sacrifices to aid the NRL’s resumption may have pointed to a fairytale result, but even the screenwriters’ guild would have struggled to dream up the emphatic, history-making performance everyone’s new second-favourite team would produce against St George Illawarra at Central Coast Stadium.

An 18-0 scoreline, just the eighth time in the club’s history its opposition have been held to nil (and first since 2014), told only part of the story. The Warriors were just minutes away from becoming the first time ever to complete every set in an NRL game.

The Warriors made it until the 75th minute – and their 44th set in possession – before failing to complete, sending stats buffs and virtually every observer into raptures. It is almost certainly an unprecedented feat.

But numbers and records are secondary to the result and the way in which it was achieved. The attack was often clunky and disjointed, but good enough often enough to rack up the necessary points. Defensively, it was one of the best Warriors displays in recent history. There was no sign of panic or that a familiar collapse was in danger of ensuing at any point.

The maligned Adam Blair was everything we’ve wanted him to be since arriving two years ago, Kodi Nikorima starred after a contentious recall to five-eighth – and was equally impressive after an injury-enforce retrenchment to centre – and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tohu Harris and rookie sensation Eliesa Katoa were top-shelf throughout. Blake Green, aided by playing behind an excellent pack and solid ball-playing support, look as composed as he has since taking on the No.7 jersey.

A late engine-room reshuffle – with Lachlan Burr dropping out, Blair moving to prop, Katoa restored to the starting side and Warrior #244 Jack Murchie becoming late inclusion on the bench – made an enormous difference to a line-up panned by TWL when revealed on Tuesday.

For their part, the Dragons were awful. But there’s no question the Warriors made things pretty hard for them on both sides of the ball.

The Warriors were the first side to benefit from the six-again rule, earning a restarted tackle count late in the set and marching into the Dragons’ danger zone.

Blake Green’s stabbing grubber kick was too hot for Matt Dufty to handle, and Jaymane Taunoa-Brown produced an excellent pick-up to plunge over next to the posts for the sixth-minute opener.

The Warriors’ outstanding ball control and composed defence, along with the Saints’ poor discipline, had the ‘home’ side well on top – even if the dominance hadn’t quite translated to the scoreboard.

But the lead extended to 12-0 with 15 minutes of the first half remaining on the back of another penalty. Blake Green combined with Kodi Nikorima, whose deft short ball saw rookie second-rower Eliesa Katoa power through Ben Hunt and join ‘Yung Maynie’ in the NRL tryscorers club.

Injury concerns were piling up, however, with Peta Hiku leaving the field due to a game-ending rib problem, and Katoa and Adam Blair – who was an absolute beast in arguably his best-ever stint for the club in the opening half hour – underwent HIA tests.

More points before halftime given their dominance would have been nice for the Warriors, but the zero on the defensive ledger was massively satisfying – and testament to a super-tight 40-minute effort without the ball. The most remarkable stat, though, (aside from Dragons captain Cameron McInnes’ 45 tackles) was the Warriors’ 24/24 completions.

A shaky start to the second stanza was rescued by a magnificent try-saving tackle by Katoa on a rampaging Josh Kerr.

Nikorima edged the Warriors out to 14-0 with a simple penalty goal – then blew the game wide open with back-to-back massive plays in the 54th minute.

Filling in at left centre, Nikorima made a sizzling bust then on the next play caught the Saints back-pedalling to slide in for a try.

The intensity drifted out of the match thereafter, but the Warriors’ calmness and professionalism during the last quarter was eye-catching.

The highlight moment of the last 25 minutes came from Ken Maumalo, conjuring up with a miraculous strip to deny opposing winger Mikaele Ravalawa and keeping the Warriors’ try-line intact.

For now, the team and Warriors fans will bask in one of the more memorable win of recent years. The real test will come next week when they head south to take on the dangerous Penrith Panthers at Campbelltown. They’ll need to be better offensively to topple the Panthers and build a finals-worthy campaign.

But most importantly we saw myriad key improvements from a dreadful opening two rounds. This looks a team that has found a healthy dose of resolve over a tumultuous couple of months and seems determined to fulfil a storybook prophecy.

How long the resurgence under duress can last is debatable – but this win has given Warriors fans and rugby league romanticists a reason to dream.

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Categories: Previews + Reviews, WARRIORS NEWS

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