TWL RD 8: WARRIORS TRIUMPH IN BATTLE OF THE BATTLERS

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The Warriors beat the Broncos in Brisbane for the first time by 26-16 back in 2002. It was an unforgettable afternoon at the expansive ANZ Stadium between two heavyweights, who both finished in the NRL premiership’s top three.

The clubs entered Round 8 of 2020 in the bottom three and arguably at the respective lowest ebbs in their histories. Their showdown in Gosford also finished 26-16 – and despite the rivals’ woeful current status, it’s a game destined to go down in Warriors folklore as equally momentous as that high-stakes success 18 years ago.

The struggling outfits combined to produce one of the most appalling halves of football quality-wise in recent memory in the opening 40. The Broncos led 10-0 on the back of the Warriors’ bumbling, but a Ken Maumalo try just before the break proved crucial.

The Warriors scored three tries to one in the second stanza as vaudeville villains turned into superheroes in blue, red, green and white jerseys. Unlikely saviours Wayde Egan, Blake Green, Maumalo and Isaiah Papali’i conspired inside the last 15 minutes to clinch a remarkable result after the likes of Tohu Harris and Adam Blair toiled to keep the ‘home’ team in it amid an erratic first hour or so.

The Warriors were physical in the early stages with middles Tohu Harris, Adam Blair and Jamayne Taunoa Brown prominent, but they appeared rattled after losing Kodi Nikorima to concussion – courtesy of a steamrolling Tevita Pangai Jr run – in just the fifth minute.

A bad read out wide from Gerard Beale helped create the overlap for Brisbane winger Xavier Coates to stroll in for first blood.

The sloppiest, low-quality 20 minutes of first-grade rugby league anyone could have the misfortune of witnessing ensued. Gerard Beale made a simple handling error matched only by a shocking pass to Ken Maumalo that went to ground; Jamayne Isaako was bundled into touch twice and came up with a kick-return knock-on; Maumalo’s horrific in-goal tackle attempt after a brilliant grubber from five-eighth replacement Chanel Harris-Tavita allowed Coates to run 60 metres up-field.

The coup de grace came from Karl Lawton to break the scoring impasse. Attempting an ill-fated pass while tackled with his back turned, Lawton handed an easy intercept to greyhound Coates to streak 90 metres.

It was a terrible result for the Warriors after enjoying a pile of possession near the Broncos’ line but doing nothing with it.

But a Peta Hiku dropped bomb in front of his own sticks went unpunished, while Maumalo made up for a bootlace fumble with the try-line wide open by powering over just before halftime on the back of a superb CHT pass and redemptive quick hands from Beale.

Harris-Tavita nailed the sideline conversion for a 10-6 scoreline at the end of a diabolical 40 minutes that perfectly illustrated why both teams are where they are on the NRL ladder.

The second half was equally erratic from both sides but ex-Warrior Issac Luke’s unfortunate HIA exit (though he would make a surprise return) following a big shot from Harris-Tavita put the Broncos on their heels.

Nice play from Wayde Egan near the Brisbane line saw Paasi crash over from a flat pass, the Warriors taking the lead for the first time in the 48th minute.

The Warriors had wrested the momentum – but a Hiku blunder gifted it straight back to the Broncos in the 56th minute.

The stand-in fullback inexplicably left a towering Anthony Milford bomb to bounce and Herbie Farnworth latched onto the horror bounce to score.

A magnificent 40/20 from old-stager Blake Green – responding to news he won’t be in Auckland in 2021 – appeared to turn the match on its head again, but a Broncos captain’s challenge revealed Isaiah Papali’i had slipped and taken Milford out, robbing David Fusitu’a of a meat pie in his 100th NRL game.

That misfortune could have broken the Warriors. But they regrouped and hit the front again through a 68th-minute piece of inspiration from Wayde Egan, whose determined dummy-half effort near the line saw him slam the ball down.

A few minutes minutes later a last-tackle passing raid down the short side to provide Maumalo – an absolute powerhouse throughout the second half – the opportunity to produce a miraculous finish in the corner, giving the Warriors a 22-16 lead.

For a player that is angling for a plane ticket home for family reasons, struggled badly last week and had a largely abhorrent first half against the Broncos, Big Ken’s last 41 minutes of the match was spine-tingling stuff.

The Broncos’ paper-thin credibility rested on their ability to at least force golden point, but the fallen superpowers made two woeful errors to effectively close out the result.

In a piece of somewhat poetic justice, Green – whose boot was pivotal to the Warriors’ second-half charge – made a dart and found Papali’i on the inside to score in the last significant play of the match. Fusitu’a hooked the obligatory milestone conversion attempt.

It would be putting the cart before the Bronco to suggest this win is a potential platform for a Warriors revival. But there was character galore, particularly in the wake of some of the side’s first-half incompetence.

The off-field adversity of the past couple of months aside, plenty went against the Warriors – both of their own design and just pure bad luck. But they hung in admirably and it was a performance for the true fans to be proud of, to clutch to their chests for the moment and put away in the memory banks for perpetuity.

It’s also worth remembering they did without the suspended Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – Steve Urkel-esque in the stands with his eye-catching specs – on top of their heavy injury toll.

Challenging for the finals or battling to stave off the spoon, a Warriors win always feels good – and this was among the better ones of a trying 18 months.

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