TWL RD 20: RAGTAG WARRIORS RUN DOWN TIGERS FOR GUTSY WIN

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It was ugly and frustrating at times, but the Warriors’ 18-16 victory over Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium deserves to rate as one of their most notable, courageous and unlikely of the past decade.

On a seven-match losing streak and after farewelling Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Leeson Ah Mau and negotiating another batch of injury and suspension withdrawals – incredibly, the Warriors had just one starting player, Eliesa Katoa, lining up in the same spot as Round 1 – they recovered from a 10-0 halftime deficit and held on amid a nerve-shredding finish.

The Warriors were outstanding in the first 20 minutes of the second half and surged to an 18-10 lead. Despite some infuriating moments with the ball as the clock wound down – and the Tigers weren’t much better in that department – the underdogs hung on via some genuinely good scrambling defence.

Absurd as it may seem, their Top 8 hopes remain afloat.

The Warriors had a few early opportunities – a bizarre Ben Murdoch-Masila pass wrecked a good-ball set on the second tackle, while an excellent Sean O’Sullivan kick narrowly missed producing a try for 18-year-old debutant centre Viliami Vailea.

The Tigers wrested the momentum with a string of forced line dropouts and set restarts, before Moses Mbye – shifted to fullback after a second-minute injury to young sensation Daine Laurie – played a key role in building their 10-0 lead.

Mbye ran off Adam Doueihi to send David Nofoaluma over in corner in the 17th minute, before muscling over himself from close range soon afterwards courtesy of soft goal-line efforts from Vailea and Reece Walsh.

Righting the ship with some constructive play and powerful runs from the likes of Marcelo Montoya and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, the Warriors got back into the game and started getting into a set-for-set arm-wrestle with the Tigers but again their scoring chances come undone through errors.

Kodi Nikorima’s dummy-half impact from the bench was palpable.

The Warriors came out firing in the second half and landed on the scoreboard through retrenched second-rower Euan Aitken, who finished off super ball-playing from five-eighth and captain Peta Hiku.

Bunty Afoa put them into the lead for the first time in the 48th minute, barging over next to the posts after some deft work from Nikorima.

The remarkable turnaround was complete eight minutes later courtesy of one of 2021’s more bizarre tries, a short dropout bouncing up into the hands of Aitken, who strolled over for his second unopposed.

But the Tigers stopped the flow of points and hit back through a hot-stepping Doueihi at the hour mark, cutting the deficit back to two points.

The last quarter of the match was an agonising watch, reeking of another late Warriors choke. But their defence and goal-line composure was generally superb.

A stack of match-sealing opportunities presented themselves, but the Warriors did their best to bottle them. Luke Brooks’ 90-metre run for a potential go-ahead try was pulled back for the slightest of knock-ons, before Nikorima’s wayward passing sent the blood pressure of everyone in the coaching box and every Warriors fan’s blood pressure through the roof.

But the Tigers never really threatened to steal the game, the Warriors’ defensive line holding firm despite their unfamiliarity with the bloke standing next to him.

A late charge for the finals may still seem a pipe-dream, but it’s still a distinct possibility. Other results need to fall their way and obviously they need to keep winning…but with a soft draw the Warriors – four points shy of eighth on the live ladder – remain in the mix.

Warriors 18 (Euan Aitken 2, Bunty Afoa tries; Reece Walsh 3 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 16 (David Nofoaluma, Moses Mbye, Adam Doueihi tries; Doueihi 2 goals) at Suncorp Stadium

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