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Another top-four opponent, another valiant, narrow loss laced with character and resolve. But unlike recent defeats to Penrith and Sydney Roosters, the Warriors’ 24-18 loss to Parramatta in a fiery contest at Central Coast Stadium was agonisingly hard to take due to some of the most horrific officiating of 2020.

The Warriors were on the back foot from the kick-off but fell behind 16-0 after 25 minutes following the appalling sin-binning of Jazz Tevaga that should have its own wing in the Rugby League Refereeing Hall of Shame.

Incredibly, the Warriors clawed back with some electrifying early-2000s- and early 2010s-esque adlib brilliance, trailing the heavyweight Eels – hell-bent on bouncing back after a galling 38-0 loss to Souths in Round 16 – by just four at the break.

The rub of the green would not swing the Warriors’ way, however – having a try disputably disallowed due to a forward pass – and finishing with just their second L in six games.

The result was huge for the slumping Eels, restoring them to third on the ladder, while it landed a huge blow to the Warriors’ audacious late charge for the finals. But form – particularly given Parra loan players George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro were unable to play, and first-choice stars Eliesa Katoa and Patrick Herbert were in the casualty – and fans’ overflowing pride in the team’s guts, spirit and unbreakable mentality are certainly no problem heading into a hectic final three rounds.

The Warriors’ start couldn’t have been much worse. Kodi Nikorima’s first kick went dead, the Warriors gave away a penalty during Parramatta’s second set and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was trapped in-goal soon afterwards.

The early pressure turned into points for the Eels as one-game Warrior Shaun Lane produced a beautiful cut-out ball down a short side to send Maika Sivo strolling over.

The match descended into high farce in the 16th minute when Jazz Tevaga was sin-binned for pushing opposing No.13 Nathan Brown’s jersey into his chin. Only Brown’s flagrant overreaction drew attention to what was a complete non-event, yet the match officials showed an utter lack of knowledge, backbone and integrity to swing the contest heavily in the Eels’ favour.

The blue-and-golds used their undeserved one-man advantage to powered out to a 16-0 lead, putting on two tries from kicks.

A horrific defensive decision from Isaiah Papli’i (who else?) opened the door for Clint Gutherson to steam into space before putting in a grubber for Jai Field to score. Blake Ferguson ended his much-talked-about 2020 try drought after Field’s deft grubber through the Warriors’ short-handed defensive line.

Tevaga returned and the Warriors’ stemmed the flow. Then they produced back-to-back tries that no fan who witnessed them will ever forget.

A phenomenal helter-skelter try reminiscent of Tuivasa-Sheck’s try-of-the-year stunner in Canberra last year put the home side on the board. A tapped-back kick and a string of desperate passes led to Nikorima threading a grubber through for Chanel Harris-Tavita to pounce.

In the ensuing set, RTS scorched through the Parramatta defence, stepped past Gutherson and flung an off-balance speculator as he headed towards the turf, which CHT was again on hand to convert into a try.

From the depths of an unwarranted 16-point deficit, the Warriors went into halftime just 16-12 down with all the momentum.

The second half was fought in far closer quarters, but the tension and drama rendered it equally as thrilling as the opening 40.

Defence dominated the first 20 minutes after the break, though the Warriors were unlucky not to draw level when a pass to send Gerard Beale in for a try was contentiously ruled forward in a barely believable repeat of last year’s unforgettably official-tainted defeat to the Eels at BankWest Stadium.

Parramatta landed a telling blow when Waqa Blake soared to catch a bomb and plunge over in the 63rd minute.

But the Warriors extraordinary resolve shone through again immediately.

Working their way into a scoring position a few minutes later, Hayze Perham put a beautiful move on Blake to create space for Beale, who centred a short grubber in for Perham to dot down for his maiden NRL try. Harris-Tavita curled the conversion through from the sideline to cut the gap to four again.

The Eels inched out to a six-point lead with a penalty goal with five minutes left and the Warriors’ spirited attempts to produce a levelling try came up short.

Yet again, there was so much to take out of this performance for the Warriors and Todd Payten. His side was significantly depleted, copped some abhorrent calls, and still almost stole another big-time win against one of 2020’s benchmark teams who had been embarrassed a week earlier.

So where do they stand now?

Well, next Sunday’s showdown with the stumbling Cronulla Sharks – who will almost certainly be without Chad Townsend, Wade Graham and Toby Rudolf due to judiciary charges, but should get former Warriors linchpin Shaun Johnson back – is absolutely must-win.

Take the two points there, and we’ll be two points shy of the eighth-placed Sharks. Then we’ll need wins over Canberra and Manly in the last two rounds, while also needing the Sharks to lose to the Roosters and Raiders.

But damn, based on the last seven rounds, you’ll have to forgive me for feeling pretty confident of seeing our courageous lads lining up on qualifying final weekend.

Parramatta Eels 22 (Maika Sivo, Jai Field, Blake Ferguson, Waqa Blake tries; Mitchell Moses 3 goals) defeated Warriors 16 (Chanel Harris-Tavita 2, Hayze Perham tries; Harris-Tavita 2 goals) at Central Coast Stadium


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