TWL RD 21: WARRIORS SURVIVE EVANS’ BRAIN-FOLDS FOR ONE OF THE GREAT WINS

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The Warriors have chalked up back-to-back wins for the first time in the Nathan Brown era. Both were achieved by 18-16 scorelines after coming back from 10-point halftime deficits.

But those coincidences will barely be remembered years down the track when fans reminisce about one of the crazier wins in the club’s history against Cronulla at an empty Cbus Super Stadium.

Interchange forward Kane Evans was sin-binned twice as veteran Will Chambers’ acid tongue melted his brain – the first 10-minute spell allowing the Sharks to race to a 16-6 lead late in the first half.

But the Warriors fought back brilliantly to level the scores in the second stanza, edged in front while their resident loose cannon was having his second referee-enforced spell and held on gallantly in a nail-biting finish to keep their final flame flickering.

Addin Fonua-Blake and Matt Lodge did everything they could to suggest they will be the Warriors’ best front-row pairing since – and potentially better than – Steve Price and Ruben Wiki in a blistering opening stint.

Returning, oft-maligned playmaker Chanel Harris-Tavita’s kicking game was an enormous factor in the victory, Sean O’Sullivan’s tenacity and calmness proved key, back-rowers Josh Curran and Euan Aitken came up with some massive plays, and Reece Walsh’s dynamic genius and willingness to take responsibility for the Warriors’ fate as a barely-19-year-old continues to astound.

The Warriors were outstanding from the outset, rolling through the Sharks and creating opportunities. An early Chanel Harris-Tavita forced dropout led to a superb piece of vision from Sean O’Sullivan opening up acres of space for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who bamboozled opposite Ronaldo Mulitalo and produced an acrobatic finish in the corner after just three minutes.

Viliame Vailea was contentiously denied a maiden NRL four-pointer by a tackled-in-the-air call, while Reece Walsh’s grubber went a bounce of the ball from delivering DWZ his second.

Capping easily their best opening 20 minutes of the season, the Warriors dodged a bullet as Sioisifa Talakai’s barnstorming try under the posts after cutting back against the grain was pulled back courtesy of a somewhat unlucky obstruction call.

The teams went set for set in the ensuing period; the Warriors looked more than comfortable. But Euan Aitken and Kodi Nikorima departed with HIAs, Lodge was interchanged and a forced dropout by Walsh was foiled by the Sharks’ short dropout in the space of a few minutes.

Walsh opted to boot the ball into touch in handy position, indicating the Warriors were starting to feel the pinch. A couple of plays later, Will Kennedy sliced through on the blindside and put speedster Connor Tracey away to finish a 60-metre try.

The game – and the Warriors’ season – imploded on the back of Kane ‘Wrist-tape Shakespeare’ Evans’ incompetence and astonishing lack of temperament. On the field for seven minutes, Evans coughed the ball up in one hit-up then lost the plot at Cronulla sledger extraordinaire Will Chambers, punching him twice to earn 10 minutes in the bin with five minutes of the half remaining.

Briton Nikora and Kennedy – again from long-range – blitzed the short-handed Warriors with tries for an agonising 16-6 scoreline at the break.

But the under-fire Kiwi outfit survived an early onslaught in the second half and gradually found their groove again with 13 on the paddock – despite one of them being the butterfingered, ill-disciplined Evans.

Curran ran a great line off O’Sullivan then popped a wonderful offload for Walsh to race in unopposed in the 55th minute.

The momentum continued with a stunning effort from new second-row sensation Aitken at the hour mark.

The retrenched centre received the ball under pressure on the last tackle but brushed off Chambers and stormed over for the leveller.

Walsh’s conversion attempt cannoned off the posts – just his third miss from 16 NRL attempts – before Evans was staggeringly binned again for a head-slam tackle on, who else, Chambers with 15 minutes left.

Another sizzling interchange between Walsh and Curran saw the Warriors tear upfield, however, and a crusher tackle on Curran allowed Walsh to pop over a penalty goal with 12 minutes on clock.

The Warriors saw out the remainder of their period a man short with admirable poise and scrapped their way through the dying minutes for an amazing W – albeit benefitting from some bizarre decision-making from the inexperienced Sharks spine.

The magnitude of this win cannot be understated given what was at stake for the Warriors’ razor-thin finals hopes, their (largely Evans-based) obstacles, their absentees and chronic inability to close out unloseable games at time this season.

In a manner reminiscent of the club’s revival in the second half of 2020, the Warriors have found the desire and composure required to take down at least any team outside the NRL’s genuine big guns. Fortunately, their remaining games are against also-rans and fellow Top 8 desperados: the Bulldogs, Broncos, Raiders and Titans.

Strap in – we’re still alive babyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

Warriors 18 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Reece Walsh, Euan Aitken tries; Walsh 3 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 16 (Connor Tracey, Briton Nikora, Will Kennedy tries; Braydon Trindall 2 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium

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