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This ‘dead-rubber’ match always had the feel of an exhibition match designed to pay homage to the Warriors’ unprecedented sacrifice to keep the NRL season alive, as well as their spectacular efforts to stay in the finals race until a fortnight ago.

Manly’s pre-match guard of honour confirmed the Warriors love-in.

And so it proved in the 80 mintues that followed, with 14 tries scored on Sunday afternoon at Central Coast Stadium. Fittingly, the Warriors came away with the result 40-28, leapfrogging the Sea Eagles and Tigers in the process to snare a richly-deserved 10th-place finish in a season that many – almost universally sympathetically – tipped them to pick up a maiden spoon.

With beloved skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck sitting in the stands, the Warriors overcame a horror start to race out to a 16-point lead just before halftime. Tries to the Sea Eagles seconds either side of the break failed to derail the surrogate hosts, who regained control to close out a comfortable victory.

Centre Adam Keighran scored a hat-trick, while returning duo Eliesa Katoa and Patrick Herbert picked up doubles – but the creative work of spine trio Chanel Harris-Tavita, Kodi Nikorima and Peta Hiku was almost exclusively responsible for the Warriors’ eight four-pointers.

The Warriors looked to have one foot on the plane home in the opening 10 minutes, making basic handling errors and dropping off tackles.

A brilliant long ball from Daly Cherry-Evans – and Patrick Herbert’s poor positional play on the left wing – saw Rueben Garrick stroll in for the opener. Manly back-rower Corey Waddell muscled over for a super-soft four-pointer soon afterwards, giving the visitors a 10-0 lead.

But the Warriors took their first chance at the other end in almost comical scenes. An ordinary kick from Chanel Harris-Tavita should have been claimed easily by fullback Tevita Funa, but Cherry-Evans’ unnecessary involvement knocked the ball free and Kodi Nikorima dotted down.

Two minutes later returning rookie sensation Eliesa Katoa, steaming onto early-season partner-in-crime Nikorima’s short ball, plunged over.

Beautiful sleight-of-hand and footwork from fullback stand-in Peta Hiku put centre Adam Keighran through a hole and over for a try, while outstanding quick hands from Hiku and Keighran created a clear passage for Herbert to score.

The Sea Eagles had totally dropped their bundle and another mistake invited the Warriors downfield to score their fifth try.

CHT’s boot this time garnered a deserved try, threading an inch-perfect grubber through for Katoa to grab his maiden NRL double.

From 10 points down after 15 minutes, the Warriors had rallied to a 26-10 lead by the half-hour mark.

A freak try with a minute of the first half to go pegged the deficit back to 12 points. DCE rolled the dice on a grubber from inside his own half, which took an unbelievable bounce for winger Abbas Miski to latch onto and step inside Hiku and Adam Pompey on an impressive run to the tryline.

The Warriors’ bad starts to the second half have been predominantly eradicated in recent times – but this was up there with the all-time worst. Pompey butchered the kick-off and – with no scrum required under the NRL’s experimental rules – Miski blazed over for his seconds just 45 seconds after the whistle.

But, more typical of the Warriors’ late-2020 efforts, they regrouped after a potentially disastrous setback.

Garrick fumbled a crossfield kick amid a challenge from Herbert in the 54th minute and Keighran pounced on the scraps for his second.

Playing in just his ninth NRL game, the off-contract Keighran snared his first hat-trick off a Nikorima pass, running a great angle and stepping past Funa to score.

Giant Manly prop Taniela Paseka gave his side a glimmer of hope when he powered over with 11 minutes to go but Herbert’s second try – latching onto a superb Nikorima kick – put the result beyond doubt, despite Blair’s wayward obligatory conversion attempt.

Sea Eagles centre Brad Parker, whose ribs were given a regular workout by a jamming-in Pompey, completed the scoring in the 78th minute.

A season of heart-wrenching, heart-warming and goodwill-inducing moments finished in apt fashion courtesy of a haka for the retiring Blair, 51-Test Kiwi and the record-holder for most first grade games by a non-Australian.

Now that it’s over, it’s hard to know exactly how to feel. The Warriors could very easily have scraped into the finals. But their level of overachievement – given their circumstances, early-season form, personnel and change of coach – was already beyond extraordinary.

This was the Warriors’ fifth win in their last eight games; the three losses were by eight or less. Fans’ optimism, given some recent mind-blowing acquisitions, could only be higher if interim coach extraordinaire Todd Payten was staying on-board.

Warriors 40 (Adam Keighran 3, Eliesa Katoa 2, Patrick Herbert 2, Kodi Nikorima tries; Chanel Harris-Tavita 6 goals) defeated Manly Sea Eagles 28 (Abbas Miski 2, Reuben Garrick, Corey Waddell, Taniela Paseka, Brad Parker tries; Garrick 2 goals) at Central Coast Stadium

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