The Warriors bid for just the fifth 2-0 start in the club’s history came unstuck with five minutes left courtesy of a teenaged centre, with Bradman Best powering Newcastle Knights to a gripping 20-16 victory at Central Coast Stadium.
The 19-year-old Best laid on two second-half tries for winger Hymel Hunt, including the match-winner after bulldozing through opposite number Peta Hiku.
The Warriors had rallied valiantly in the second stanza as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck put Adam Pompey and Ken Maumalo over to turn an eight-point deficit into a two-point lead. But it wasn’t enough to hold on for the two competition points in a gruelling battle.
Industrious individual displays from Tohu Harris, Addin Fonua-Blake, Leeson Ah Mau and RTS, along with a dynamic, tryscoring effort off the bench from Ben Murdoch-Masila, were the standout individual takeaways from a physcial evening in Gosford.
Despite pegging the kick-off out on the full, the Warriors enjoyed the early running. But they didn’t really threaten while forcing two line dropouts through superb last-tackle kicks from Peta Hiku and Chanel Harris-Tavita, and a subsequent repeat set.
The hosts continued to enjoy the better of the battle in the middle, but a penalty gave the Knights their first genuine chance and the Warriors failed their first goal-line test in the 18th minute. Hooker Jayden Brailey caught the back-tracking Warriors defence out to dart over and force the ball in heavy traffic.
The Warriors weathered a tough period before apparently capitalising on a couple of set restarts, Wayde Egan sneaking his way over in the 31st minute. His try was bafflingly scrubbed by the video ref, but from a resultant penalty Tohu Harris put Ben Murdoch-Masila over with a delicious short ball.
Kodi Nikorima slotted the conversion for 6-all.
Meanwhile, the Warriors sweated on a calf complaint to front-row spearhead Addin Fonua-Blake.
The half ended on a sour note for the Warriors, with Jazz Tevaga pinged for a suspension-worthy knee on Bradman Best. Mitch Barnett chipped over the penalty goal from handy position for a narrow halftime lead.
Neither side gave an inch in the early second-half exchanges, but a piece of Gidley Flick brilliance from Best sent Hymel Hunt diving over in the corner for a crucial 50th-minute try. Barnett – the least fashionable kicker in the NRL for a decade – curled the conversion through from the sideline for 14-6 against an incredible red sky backdrop.
The Warriors regrouped, however, and cut the deficit to two points when Adam Pompey reached out after taking a pass from the indefatigable Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
That seemed to swing the balance of confidence and momentum. The Warriors took the lead for the first time with just under 13 minutes left, a beautifully-worked backline move giving RTS the space to send Ken Maumalo over in the corner. Pompey took over the kicking but shanked the conversion, leaving it at 16-14.
But burly tyro Best proved the match-winner with five minutes to go, powering through Peta Hiku and offloading again for Hunt to score.
There’s plenty of positives to take away from the loss and just as much to work on. Chanel Harris-Tavita and Kodi Nikorima are still learning how to control games that are in the balance, while the right-side offence is very much yet to fire in 2021.
But the nature of the loss will not be of undue concern to Nathan Brown and co, the Warriors hanging tough throughout and very nearly coming away with the W.
Their first away assignment against Canberra in Round 3 should provide a genuine litmus test of where this new-look team is at.