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Despite being sympathetic to the Warriors’ nomadic plight and myriad setbacks in 2020, at TWL we’ve been reluctant to use those handicaps to excuse poor performances. But if there was a time when we could forgive a flat showing, it was this week after another bevy of rattling developments: Payten’s rejection, Green’s defection and Brown’s reported deal.

Instead, the Warriors doubled down on last week’s gutsy victory over Wests Tigers with a thrilling, character-filled 26-22 defeat of Manly at a soaked Brookvale Oval. It secured the club’s first consecutive wins of 2020, its first win against the Sea Eagles in Australia since 2009…and kept the thought-to-be extinguished finals flame flickering.

The Warriors rocketed out of the blocks in each half before being reeled in during the sin-bin spells of Karl Lawton and Jack Hetherington. But seeing their twin 16-point leads being reduced to one-try gaps did not shake the underdogs’ resolve or composure.

Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita passed their long-awaited audition as a halves combination with flying colours. Both laid multiple tries and kicked beautifully, while the duo – derided as ill-equipped of steering an NRL team – shared the responsibility of getting the team around the park superbly.

The big wet made it near-impossible for any player to be perfect, but the back-three of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Patrick Herbert and George Jennings combined for over 550 metres and the wingers crossed for three tries between them, Peta Hiku scored and provided tries, and back-rowers Tohu Harris and Jazz Tevaga were immense on both sides of the ball.

The Warriors’ dream start was made possible by the tenacity of George Jennings and Chanel Harris-Tavita, who used the wet conditions to dump Daly Cherry-Evans over the sideline after the Manly skipper picked up the kick-off.

A repeat set, three set restarts and a penalty later, and Patrick Herbert producing a sensational diving effort to take an inch-perfect Kodi Nikorima kick on the full for the first try.

The visitors went 10-0 ahead thanks to a deft Harris-Tavita grubber, swooped upon by Eliesa Katoa.

The point-a-minute rampage continued in the 16th when loan winger George Jennings – enjoying space created by Katoa’s and Adam Pompey’s quick hands – step inside a swarm of Manly defenders, palming off Cherry-Evans and dotted down.

Bu the momentum swung when Karl Lawton was sin-binned for an early tackle on Sea Eagles lock Jake Trbojevic, who in all likelihood would have scored under the posts if not for the illegal interference.

The penalty try was denied by the Bunker but left centre Tevita Funa breezed through the 12-man defence soon afterwards to open Manly’s account.

The Warriors played the percentages to wind down the sin-bin clock, but they were unable to hold on and giant right centre Moses Suli powered through a stretched line from a scrum win to cut the deficit to six points.

With their team back to the full contingent, bad errors from Peta Hiku and Herbert coming out of danger went unpunished by the Sea Eagles’ equally sloppy attack.

Getting to halftime with any further damage was something of a mini-victory for the under-siege Warriors – and they earned a massive bonus seconds out from the siren on the back of a penalty. And it was their flighty right-edge combination atoning, Hiku standing up Funa to put Herbert away for an acrobatic put-down and a double.

A rollercoaster to get there, but 20-10 at halftime was more than satisfying.

Nikorima’s brilliant short kicking game ensured a start to the second half that matched the first. After first forcing a line dropout, the five-eighth threaded the ball through for Hiku to force the ball in heavy traffic.

The mirroring of the opening 40 didn’t stop there, unfortunately. A clumsy high tackle from Jack Hetherington left Martin Taupau dazed and garnered another 10 in the bin.

The Warriors bravely withstood the initial Manly attacking forays while a man short but Haumole Olakau’atu reached out to score off a nice Cade Cust pass with 23 minutes remaining, restoring the 10-point gap.

Hetherington was the villain again 14 minutes from fulltime, coughing up the ball 30 metres out from his own line.

The Sea Eagles crossed out wide through Jorge Taufua. Reuben Garrick’s booming sideline conversion set up a 26-22 scoreline and a nerve-shredding conclusion.

The latter stages were tense, tough and excruciating to watch. But the Warriors refused to blink. They even survived a couple of Henry Perenara specials in the space of a minute – wrongly pinging Hetherington for a lost ball when the Warriors were hot on attack and ruling a debatable ‘escort’ penalty at the other end – to close out a momentous and richly-deserved result.

Hetherington, who has an unflattering judiciary record despite a relatively brief first-grade career, will miss at least a week; ironically he was already set to miss the Round 14 encounter with his usual club Penrith anyway.

All supporters have asked for is effort and heart; every time that request has been answered – with the exception of the gallant loss to Sydney Roosters – the boys have finished with two competition points. The live ladder sees the Warriors up to 11th and just one win adrift of the Top 8 – pertinent Round 13 results pending.

Next week’s showdown with the front-running Panthers shapes as a difficult assignment, but ensuing games against lowly Canterbury and faltering Newcastle will give the Warriors a gilt-edged chance to stay in the mix. Obviously we’d love more to cling to and get excited about over the last seven rounds – but the past three weeks have given us more than enough on-field fodder to be proud of and hang our hat on ahead of 2021 and beyond.

If only the NRL’s hottest new coach, Toddy P, wanted to a part of it…

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