TWL RD 3: WARRIORS SNATCH GLORY IN ALL-TIME CRAZY GAME

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A game like this almost transcends dissection. It was a gift from the rugby league Gods, forever to be remembered for the drama, controversy and gallantry encapsulated within one of the wildest blocks of 80 minutes you could ever hope to witness.

The Warriors prevailed 34-31 in a phenomenal finish against a shorthanded Canberra Raiders outfit at GIO Stadium – but a book could be written about that one.

The Raiders lost three players inside 13 minutes, yet stormed to a 19-point halftime lead. The Warriors rallied, chipped away and persevered to ultimately reclaim the advantage with just over two minutes to go. But even summing it up as the biggest comeback in the club’s history – trailing 31-10 at one stage – doesn’t do this match justice.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck came up with one of the greatest try-savers in the code’s history to deny Jordan Rapana on fulltime, a fitting finale – though not for a heroic-but-crestfallen Raiders side that had battled against extraordinary odds, including an appalling non-call on a Warriors forward pass – to an absolute rugby league masterpiece.

Tuivasa-Sheck’s match-winning play topped off a phenomenal game from the rugby union-bound skipper. But replacement halfback Sean O’Sullivan’s stellar display was unquestionably one of the best-ever by a Warrior on club debut, Kodi Nikorima stepped up with some enormous second-half plays and Addin Fonua-Blake, Tohu Harris, Ben Murdoch-Masila and (after one or two regrettable moments) Adam Pompey covered themselves in glory.

For the Raiders, Rapana, Ryan Sutton and Josh Papalii couldn’t have been more unlucky to end up on a losing side.

An action-packed start included George Williams misjudging the kick-off and Sebastian Kris climbing over Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to claim a  bomb and come desperately close to scoring.

But the Warriors made impressive headway from the outset and hit the scoreboard after five minutes. A slick shift from Sean O’Sullivan and Eliesa Katoa saw Addin Fonua-Blake storm over for his first try for the club.

In a moment that will earn a place in the Bunty Afoa Appreciation Society’s wank bank for perpetuity, the promotoed front-row powerhouse came up with a heroic cover tackle on Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad after a long Jordan Rapana break.

Canberra suffered from an astounding attrition rate early, losing Joseph Tapine (ankle) and Ryan James (jaw) and Kris (concussion) ruled out for the game inside 13 minutes.

But the Green Machine levelled up soon after the James-Kris friendly fire incident, Jack Wighton brushing off opposite number Kodi Nikorima to go over for 6-all.

The shorthanded hosts hit the front through Ryan Sutton in the 23rd minute, the English prop taking a suspect short ball from Josh Hodgson and muscling through RTS to score beside the posts.

Then following a woefully wasted attacking opportunity from the Warriors – with Nikorima infuriatingly to blame – the Raiders marched upfield from a penalty and Iosia Soliola crashed over under the posts.

The visitors’ implosion only accelerated. Adam Pompey unforgivably put the restart out on the full and Williams dummied his way over for the Raiders’ fourth way too easily with eight minutes of the first half remaining – the score ballooning to 24-6.

Capping an outrageously poor last 25 minutes of the first half for the Warriors, Williams snapped a field goal for a 19-point lead just before the siren.

But the Warriors made an ideal start to the second stanza. Kodi Nikorima started, finished and had a hand in the middle of an adlib, 45-metre movement just three minutes after the resumption, teasing exactly the level of attacking brilliance the five-eighth is capable of.

The revival didn’t take long to fizzle, though, courtesy of the unpredictable genius of Rapana. Lobbing up two in from the sideline, the winger popped a ball over the top to put Jarrod Croker into space, backed up for a run down the sideline and kicked infield for Elliott Whitehead to finish off a 60-metre stunner.

A glimmer of hope in the 52nd minute courtesy of some Ben Murdoch-Masila brilliance, pushing through the line and popping a sensational offload for Tuivasa-Sheck. Bayley Sironen powered over under the posts two plays later.

Then controversy with 20 minutes left: Nikorima had the Raiders back-pedalling on the last tackle and threw an outrageously forward pass for Murdoch-Masila to score. Henry Perenara, the nonpareil of refereeing incompetence, appeared to stop in preparation to rule the pass forward…but somehow changed his mind and ran into the in-goal to point to the spot.

The Warriors set up a grandstand finish with a superbly constructed try with 10 minutes left. O’Sullivan linked with Harris, who offloaded magnificently for RTS to spear over for the try.

Nikorima injected himself again to set up Adam Pompey for a stunning go-ahead try with just over two minutes left. But the drama wasn’t even close to over.

The Raiders reclaimed possession from a short kick-off and worked the ball towards the Warriors line with time almost up, before stretching the right-side defence. Rapana dived for the corner with 15 seconds on the clock, only for Tuivasa-Sheck to slap his arm – and the ball free – to save an astonishing win that no one that watched the game could ever forget.

Warriors 34 (Addin Fonua-Blake, Kodi Nikorima, Bayley Sironen, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Adam Pompey tries; Nikorima 5 goals) defeated Raiders 31 (Jack Wighton, Ryan Sutton, Iosia Soliola, George Williams, Elliot Whitehead tries; Jarrod Croker 5 goals; Williams field goal) at GIO Stadium 

 

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