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This team should be playing finals footy.

The Warriors gave top-four hopefuls Canberra a major fright on Sunday afternoon before valiantly going down 26-14 in a testy clash.

Their finals hopes dashed last week, the Warriors arrived in the capital as 16.5-point, $5-and-change outsiders with the bookies. But they played like a team still in the premiership mix as they grafted to a 14-6 lead midway through the first half.

The likes of off-contract, oft-maligned forwards Lachlan Burr and Isaish Papali’i were among the unlikely Warriors standouts, with their ability to get under the tetchy Raiders’ skins just as impressive as their work-rate and quality on both sides of the ball.

The first of two long-range intercepts turned the tide in favour of the home side, however, as the under-siege hosts scored the last 20 points of the match.

In a heart-wrenching postscript to the loss, champion fullback and Dally M Captain of the Year-in-waiting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s campaign came to an early end via a second-half hamstring injury.

The combatants packed a full round’s worth of excitement, incident and aggro into the opening 40 minutes.

It was immediately apparent the out-of-contention Warriors had turned up to play, measuring up in defence and promoting the footy.

After the Raiders lost halfback George Williams early to head knock, the Warriors opened the scoring in the ninth minute when Peta Hiku brilliantly latched onto a Kodi Nikorima grubber.

The hosts responded five minutes later, Jarrod Croker – the all-time leading try-scorer against the Warriors – streaming through off a superb pass from Jack Wighton.

The try was Croker’s 18th in 20 games at the Warriors’ expense.

The Warriors took the ascendancy as the Raiders’ discipline disintegrated, however, with Chanel Harris-Tavita kicking his side to a 10-6 lead with penalty goals in the 20th and 25th minutes.

The second came after a scrum blow-up involving Lachlan Burr, who was proving a menace in the middle, and Josh Papalii.

Almost unanimously regarded as the world’s greatest prop, Papalii imploded further as he was penalised for pulling Tohu Harris’ hair a couple of tackles after the next kick-off. From the resultant field position, Wighton was sin-binned for offside play near Canberra’s goal-line.

That vein in Ricky Stuart’s forehead appeared on the verge of bursting.

Nikorima’s sleight of hand sent Hiku pouring through hole to chalk up his second of the afternoon.

But the Raiders put on back-to-back tries while a man short to take a 16-14 lead into the break.

The Warriors were set to go in again but Semi Valemei swooped on a loose Jazz Tevaga offload and ran 90 metres to score.

Canberra then scored one of the more freakish tries of 2020. Elliot Whitehead ran out of dummy-half from halfway, grubbered and regathered from a deflection, and centred a wonderful kick for Hudson Young to scramble over for a try about 20 metres away from the spot he tried to rearrange the composition of Adam Pompey’s eye socket about this time last year.

The halftime scoreline was tough to take for the underdog visitors after finishing on the right side of a 7-1 penalty count and playing far better footy overall.

The Warriors made a strong start again in the second stanza, but another intercept led to another against-the-run-of-play try to Valemei.

After Nikorima forced a line dropout, Whitehead snaffled a Roger Tuivasa-Sheck offload and hared into opposition territory. Valemei proved too hard to handle out wide on the following play.


A subsequent penalty goal edged the Raiders out to an eight-point lead.

Six minutes later, RTS’s game – and likely his inspirational season – was over courtesy of a hamstring injury.

The sting and intensity went right out of the game from that point, despite the result remaining in the balance. Hiku was denied a hat-trick by a clumsy decoy run from Jack Murchie.

The Raiders effectively sealed a crucial two premiership points when Nick Cotric dived over out wide with eight minutes left.

But that was more than enough time remaining for the ludicrously incompetent entity that is the NRL Bunker to buttfuck any sliver of miraculous comeback ambitions the Warriors may have held.

The Raiders challenged a penalty call against Jordan Rapana for kicking Isaiah Papali’i’s hand. The replay showed Rapana kicking Papali’i – who instinctively yelled in pain – in the hand. Challenge successful.

That meant a Warriors last tackle instead of a fresh set. Adam Pompey contested the subsequent bomb with Croker, who hit the ground awkwardly despite minimal contact from the winger who did nothing wrong. The Warriors sent it upstairs. Challenge unsuccessful.

If the Warriors were still in finals contention, Graham Annesley would have been looking for a different kind of bunker to hide in.

The 26-14 result represented something of a lost opportunity for the Warriors to add to their lengthy 2020 tale of gallantry, but they lost few admirers for sticking it to the Raiders and pushing them all the way. They were only a couple of intercepts shy of celebrating another famous win in the capital.

Without Roger, the Warriors will close their campaign in Gosford against Manly next Sunday before catching a charter flight home the next day. It’ll be an emotional one for the team and the staff, and for the fans whose pride cup has been full to overflowing thanks to their efforts over the last couple of months.

A win would likely give the Warriors a ninth-place finish – the absolute minimum the club deserves for its overachieving efforts under duress.

Canberra Raiders 26 (Semi Valemei 2, Jarrod Croker, Hudson Young, Nick Cotric tries; Croker 3 goals) defeated Warriors 14 (Peta Hiku 2 tries; Chanel Harris-Tavita 3 goals) at GIO Stadium



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