TWL RD 18: INJURY-HIT WARRIORS BRAVE IN LOSS TO PANTHERS

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After a five-match losing streak littered with fadeouts and blowouts, the Warriors turned in a performance even the club’s most disillusioned fans can be proud of in a 30-16 loss to Penrith – despite having every reason to implode.

The Warriors conceded a try in the first two minutes before rallying to a 10-4 lead, but the match was turned on its head as Tohu Harris, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Wayde Egan exited inside the first 20 minutes. Rocco Berry joined the key trio on the sideline and in the sheds before halftime, meaning the Warriors were forced to play the entire second half with no replacements.

The undermanned outfit conceded just three tries after the break despite the devastating setbacks and amazingly dominated the last 10 minutes.

Matt Lodge played the entire 80 minutes and Addin Fonua-Blake was off the field for all of four minutes; the front-row duo was among the best players on the paddock.

Reece Walsh blew minds yet again, laying on a try, scoring one and making three line-breaks in a display dripping with natural footballing genius, toughness and maturity far beyond his barely-19 years.

The Panthers asserted physical dominance from the outset, producing powerful first sets with and without the ball.

At the end of the latter, Chad Townsend had his kick charged down in embarrassing fashion by Viliame Kikau, who picked up the loose ball and strolled away for the first try inside two minutes.

But the Warriors bounced back quickly and impressively to take a 6-4 lead before the 10-minute mark.

Following a good sideline bust by Marcelo Montoya, Wayde Egan put Matt Lodge through a hole up the middle and backed up his prop to scoot in under the posts.

A triple-blow soon afterwards, however, with Tohu Harris – a late inclusion returning from a shoulder injury – was forced off the field with a knee problem.

Then Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – 14 minutes into his first game as a five-eighth – was KO’d shutting down opposite Matt Burton.

Egan completed the trifecta barely a set later, heading to the bench with a shoulder issue.

The Warriors’ teenaged duo combined to give the shorthanded underdogs a much-needed buffer.

Taking the ball to the line on the last tackle, Reece Walsh fired a beautiful cut-out ball to send Rocco Berry over from close range. Walsh’s conversion from out wide hit the upright.

The Warriors thought they had their third after 25 minutes but Townsend’s pass to send Josh Curran through was called forward, also denying the back-rower’s magnificent lawnmower try celebration.

It proved a crucial let-off. The Panthers got a result at the end of their next set and scored from a scrum move, Brian To’o diving over out wide after the Warriors’ right-edge defenders were lured in-field.

The momentum shift towards the Panthers was palpable. They rolled down the middle with ease, offloaded at will and broke tackles like the Warriors defenders were made of polystyrene.

The inevitable happened on the back of three set restart calls, Kikau barging through for his second try and a 16-10 lead five minutes out from the break.

Capping a horror half attrition-rate-wise, Berry finished on the sidelines with an ice-pack strapped around his thigh – but overall it was an undeniably brave effort in the opening 40 minutes. An empty bench didn’t bode well, however.

The Panthers were sloppy early in the second stanza, but four Warriors sets inside the opposition 20 failed to produce an equaliser.

After showing plenty of guts on defence, the fatiguing Warriors were finally breached again in the 55th minute with Stephen Crichton’s ‘Gidley flick’ (and Montoya’s poor defensive decision) laying on the try for Charlie Staines.

That the floodgates didn’t swing open violently from that point was a credit to the Warriors’ character.

But after rebuffing a couple of Panther raids, they couldn’t hang on any longer as Liam Martin burst through to extend the advantage to 16 points.

From there it was about minimising the scoreboard damage – the Warriors were understandably too gassed to even considered mounting anything like a comeback.

Montoya was caught off his wing again as Tyrone May floated a pass over for Staines’ second.

The Warriors’ gallantry was rewarded with seven minutes left – thanks to the brilliance of Walsh.

Shortly after putting DWZ into space with a wonderful ball and copping one across the snout when he backed up the winger, Walsh hit Curran with a lovely short ball and took the immediate return pass to zip over for the Warriors’ first try of the half.

No further additions to the scoreboard but a couple more flashes of inspiration from the 19-year-old fullback put extra gloss on the pride surely oozing out of every Warriors supporter.

The trick will be to replicate the kind of character, resolve and poise they showed in a backs-to-the-wall, effectively unwinnable game when they are in the seemingly unloseable situations they’ve failed in of late.

A key building block for Nathan Brown’s charges – but another acid test in the shape of flat-truck bullies South Sydney next weekend. How the team will line up with Harris, RTS, Egan and Berry nursing injuries is another unknown ahead of Round 19.

Penrith Panthers 30 (Viliame Kikau 2, Charlie Staines 2, Brian To’o, Liam Martin tries; Stephen Crichton 3 goals) defeated Warriors 16 (Wayde Egan, Rocco Berry, Reece Walsh tries; Walsh 2 goals) at Suncorp Stadium

 

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