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A team that most would have given a sympathetic pat on the back for finishing with the wooden spoon given their sacrifices and setbacks has now won half of their 14 games since boarding a plane in Auckland amid COVID-19 uncertainty.

And fittingly the Warriors’ finest win of a bizarre, extraordinary 2020 campaign – a stunning 36-6 beatdown of sixth-placed Newcastle – came at Tamworth, their initial bubble home after jetting into nomadic abyss. It’s a result that catapulted the Warriors into outright ninth, potentially just two points shy of eighth by the end of the weekend and, astonishingly, gives them a red-hot chance of featuring in the finals.

The Warriors led from the sixth minute to the 80th, but they had to hang tough for a tense hour of footy against a team on a three-match winning streak still in the top-four mix before streaking away with four tries in the last quarter.

There were flashes of brilliance from the surrogate hosts, with Adam Pompey (both from genius centre play from Peta Hiku) and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck scoring memorable doubles. But the club’s victory – one of its best in years – was built on defensive grit and discipline.

Todd Payten’s rejuvenated side completed 41 of 47 sets and made their tackles at 92.2 percent efficiency, while their 19-3 ascendancy in the offload count and four line dropouts forced to nil were vital components of the win.

Heroes abounded all over Scully Park, but RTS, Pompey, Hiku and George Jennings were all Dally M votes-worthy out wide, Jazz Tevaga, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Lachlan Burr were magnificent in the middle, and bench trio Wayde Egan, Jack Murchie and Daniel Alvaro added plenty.

Errors from David Klemmer and Starford Toa inside the Knights’ half handed the Warriors early opportunities. Peta Hiku stood up opposite number Enari Tuala with a fend and sucked Toa in, allowing Adam Pompey to dive over in the corner.

Chanel Harris-Tavita nailed the sideline conversion for a handy 6-0 lead after eight minutes.

After another Newcastle bungle, a high shot on Kodi Nikorima gave Harris-Tavita an easy penalty opportunity to extend the lead.

But the Knights’ belated first visit to the Warriors’ 20-metre zone in the 20th minute garnered points. Centre Gehamat Shibasaki won the aerial contest against George Jennings to grab a Mitchell Pearce bomb and skipped away to score out wide. Kalyn Ponga slotted the goal to cut the deficit to two points.

Newcastle had the better of the scoring chances until halftime but the Warriors’ goal-line defence was up to the task, with last-ditch tackles denying Pearce and Kurt Mann.

The oft-maligned Lachlan Burr was a first-half standout with over 100 running metres in his opening 24-minute stint, while Jazz Tevaga (82 metres, 23 tackles and 3 offloads) was outstanding in all facets, and Jack Murchie and Daniel Alvaro made an immediate impact at the back-end of the half. In the backline, George Jennings, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Kodi Nikorima were causing the Knights regular headaches with their ball-running and fast feet.


The Warriors got the upper hand in the opening stages of the second half via good kick-chase and stiff defence. The extended the lead in the 51st minute, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck stepping past Mitchell Pearce near the Newcastle line and beating the cover to score in back-to-back weeks for the first time since April 2019.

Harris-Tavita glanced the conversion through off the upright for a 14-6 scoreline.

After a remarkable sideline break from Pompey – who was in the midst of arguably his best game in first grade – CHT forced consecutive line dropouts with superb last-tackle kicks, then Nikorima forced another.

That pressure sparked an incredible landslide as the Warriors ran in four tries in the last 20 minutes.

A brilliant flick offload from Hiku again freed up Pompey, who defied Ponga’s cover tackle to slam it down in the corner.

Just as Warriors fans pondered the field goal option, brilliant sleight of hand from RTS to Hayze Perham created a simple draw and pass for Jennings to stroll in.

The result was sealed with seven minutes to go as Tuivasa-Sheck busted through flimsy Knights defence from a scrum win near the line.

It was just the skipper’s second double for the Warriors and first since 2017.

Then the icing on the Tamworth cake.

Soon after Tevaga had won a Captain’s Challenge for David Klemmer interfering at the play-the-ball, the lion-hearted lock steamed onto a sensational flat dummy-half pass from Wayde Egan to crash over for the Warriors’ sixth try.

The Warriors are well and truly in the Top 8 mix again mathematically, but it’s their wonderful form that will get the job done.

Todd Payten has transformed this team into one of the NRL’s most committed, disciplined, cohesive and tough over the past six weeks, garnering four excellent wins and two honourable losses.

Stumbling Parramatta is up next – and the Warriors are one of the hottest teams in the comp. Strap in, 2020 has a few more twists and turns in store for us yet.

Warriors 36 (Adam Pompey 2, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, George Jennings, Jazz Tevaga tries; Chanel Harris-Tavita 6 goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 6 (Gehamat Shibasaki try; Kalyn Ponga goal) at Scully Park, Tamworth




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