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The Warriors have energised their fanbase over the past month with renewed hunger, resilience and composure, as well as discovering the elusive trait of staying on task for 80 minutes. But despite putting arguably their sloppiest, most inconsistent performance since the Round 10 capitulation to Cronulla, the Warriors found a way to make up considerable ground and overcome plucky Canterbury 20-14 at ANZ Stadium.

Starting as favourites for just the second time this season after going is as rank outsiders for four straight games, the tag – like it did in the loss to Gold Coast – looked like being the Warriors’ Kryptonite. They fell behind the last-placed Bulldogs 10-0 early and 14-6 soon after halftime but dominated the last 35 minutes of the match and probably should have won by considerably more.

Coach Todd Payten played some old-fashioned ducks and drakes with his line-up prior to the match, but the decision to blood Paul Turner at halfback proved inspired. Aside from a couple of missteps in quick succession early in the second half, the 20-year-old excited with every touch and was narrowly denied a debut solo try on three occasions.

But the undeniable stars of the show were brilliant five-eighth Kodi Nikorima, who is relishing his role as senior playmaker and laid on three of the Warriors’ four tries, and recalled back-rower Jack Murchie, who scored two tries and set up another with an exquisite pass.

The hot-stepping, offloading Warriors looked the more dangerous of the teams in the opening 10 minutes, with Kodi Nikorima and Turner threatening.

Turner very nearly scored a dream try following up his own kick after an in-goal howler from Reimis Smith, but Will Hopoate arrived to clean up for Canterbury.

The Bulldogs drew first blood in the 15th minute, however, after Hopoate helped create an overlap before Tim Lafai and Nick Meaney produced some Globetrotter-esque play down the touchline for the latter to score.

In a flash the lead was 10-0.

Awful marker defence from Karl Lawton and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown allowed Jeremy Marshall-King to stride into the open four tackles after the restart and Kieran Foran backed up to finish off a 60-metre try.

The ensuing period saw the Warriors regain some traction, but a raft of opportunities failed to bear fruit through their attacking clunkiness rather than any special resolve from the Bulldogs.

But the visitors finally landed on the scoreboard in the 30th minute, Jack Murchie – only back in the 17 due to Eliesa Katoa’s suspension – climbing high to reel in a Nikorima kick and score his maiden NRL try.

Down by four at the break – perhaps fortunately so – the Warriors needed an authoritative start to the second half. They got the opposite via a disastrous minute for novice half Turner.

After piloting a kick out on the full, Turner was caught in no-man’s land defensively as Will Hopoate steamed through a gap created by Jack Cogger’s beautiful short ball and scored out wide.

The Warriors hit back almost immediately, however, and subsequently took their first lead of the afternoon as Murchie’s big day out continued.

A brilliant flick pass from the tyro created an overlap for Peta Hiku to send Adam Pompey streaking away untouched.

Nikorima sliced through the Bulldogs’ defence during the Warriors’ next possession and found Murchie back on the inside to score his second.

The Warriors then turned the screws on the defensively, while Turner narrowly missed out on another two tryscoring chances his electric footwork created – firstly via a double-movement, then thanks to a clumsy Isaiah Papali’i decoy run.

The scoreboard breathing space belatedly came with 18 minutes remaining. More Nikorima magic had the Bulldogs’ left-edge defence in all sorts and a flying Roger Tuivasa-Sheck provided the support run, outstripping Hopoate to go in for his second try of 2020.

Nikorima’s conversion stayed out to the right, leaving the door ajar for the Bulldogs at 20-14.

Penalties and poor kicks invited the Bulldogs downfield for a chance to level it up, but the Warriors’ defence was comfortably up to the task with centres Hiku and Hayze Perham brutally snuffing out last-tackle plays.

The Warriors had a string of sets to ice the game inside the last seven minutes but couldn’t find their fifth try. A butchered field goal shot from Nikorima gave the Bulldogs one last sniff but they lost the scent and the Warriors hung on.

Finishing the weekend just four points adrift of the eighth-placed Sharks, the Warriors’ Top 8 flame is most definitely still flickering. They’re 6-7 since the restart (with four of their losses coming against top-four opposition) and have won three of their last four. A five-round run home against the Knights, Eels, Sharks, Raiders and Sea Eagles could be far worse – and we’ll be riding the fairytale-est finals charge of all time until its a mathematical impossibility.

Warriors 20 (Jack Murchie 2, Adam Pompey, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Kodi Nikorima 2 goals) defeated Canterbury Bulldogs 14 (Nick Meaney, Kieran Foran, Will Hopoate tries; Meaney goal) at ANZ Stadium


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