The New Zealand Warriors overcame a spirited Canberra Raiders side 20-16 at Mt Smart Stadium to move into sixth place on the NRL ladder, the Warriors will be hoping results go their way this weekend so they can clinch a home semi-final next week.
The night started with a tribute to Warriors player Simon Mannering who played his 300th NRL game for the New Zealand side, this was also to be his last regular season match at Mt Smart Stadium.
After an intense start from both sides it was clear the Raiders had come to play and were keen to ruin the celebrations surrounding Mannering’s big night, after 13 minutes Raiders’ halfback Sam Williams kicked a 40/20 which led to the first points of the game, a try through lock Josh Papalii.
But Papalii quickly went from hero to villain as he was penalised for an incorrect play the ball which gave the Warriors field position and their first points through Solomone Kata, who scored a try after a neat ball from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
The Warriors next points once again came off the back of a Raiders’ error, this time Blake Austin kicked the ball out on the full which gave the Warriors a chance to attack the Raiders’ line. This time it was a miracle flick pass from centre Peta Hiku to the NRL’s leading try scorer David Fusitu’a who crossed in the corner, Shaun Johnson was having a tough night with the boot as he again missed the conversion to leave the score at 8-6.
Sam Williams kicked a penalty goal for Canberra to even up the scores at halftime, but not before Joseph Leilua pulled off one of the best hits of the year smashing young Warriors five-eighth Mason Lino in a text-book tackle. Lino took a while to get back on his feet and will undoubtedly be reminded of the hit for a long time as it will be played on highlight reels for years to come.
The Warriors started the second half the better side and dominated field position and possession and they were able to turn it into points with Hiku crossing in the corner. A penalty goal to Johnson had stretched the Warriors lead to 16-8, but the Raiders wouldn’t go away and scored a miraculous try through Elliot Whitehead after winger Jordan Rapana was able to ‘bat’ the ball back into play after chasing a Josh Hodgson kick.
A Sam Williams penalty goal levelled the scores at 16 all but the Raiders ill-discipline which has plagued them all year came back to bite them as they gave away two more penalties that gifted Johnson easy shots at goal which eventually led them to the 20-16 score line that in the end proved enough for victory.
Simon Mannering has been a great servant for the New Zealand Warriors for 14 seasons and it was only fitting that he would make his 300th appearance at home in his final home game for Kiwi side. The fans showed their appreciation for their first ever ‘300 game player’ with a sell out crowd, this was the first season since their inaugural year 1995 that the Warriors have had two sell out crowds in one year. Mannering did leave the game with a sternum injury in the 43rd minute which has thrown his finals campaign in doubt, but if was to be his last game it was a fitting farewell.
It’s been the story of their season but close calls and crucial mistakes cost the Raiders yet another win against the Warriors. With the game level Michael Oldfield took Johnson out off the ball to gift back the lead to New Zealand, the Raiders then looked like they had scored through Austin after he chased down a Rapana kick, only for replays to show a slight knock on. But the Raiders kept trying and looked like they had scored the winner through Williams after he took the line on and scored, only for replays to show Emrie Guller had run into a defender to open the hole.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has had a career best year as he has led the much maligned Warriors to their first finals berth since 2011, at the start of the season RTS gave the Warriors the vote of confidence they needed by re-signing long-term with the club despite interest from Sydney clubs and the All Blacks. Since then he has led his with his actions which has him favourite to win the medal, his biggest play might have been him getting a hand on the ball as it looked like Austin was going to score the winner, only for replays to show the hand of Roger knocking ball into Austin’s hand which caused the knock on.
Goodbye and thanks for the memories
Canberra not only say goodbye to season 2018 but to three key players who have been mainstays of the side for a while. Five-eighth Blake Austin has played four seasons for the Green machine racking up 87 NRL starts, he will now head to England to Warrington. Shannon Boyd who debuted for Canberra in 2014 played five seasons and has been a crowd favourite, he also represented Australia whilst playing for the Raiders, but will now head to the Titans. Junior Paulo will also leave after two and a half seasons in the nation’s capital, after being prized away from Parramatta in 2016, Paulo will now return to the Eels on a rich four-year deal.
Tries: Kata, Fusitu’a, Hiku
Goals: Johnson 4/7
Drop Goals: N/A
Tries: Papalii, Whitehead
Goals: Williams 4/4
Drop Goals: N/A
Warriors: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2 David Fusitu’a, 3 Peta Hiku, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Mason Lino, 7 Shaun Johnson, 16 Bunty Afoa, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Agnatius Paasi, 11 Adam Blair, 12 Tohu Harris, 13 Simon Mannering, 14 Jazz Tevaga, 15 Isaiah Papali’i, 18 Leivaha Pulu, 21 Chris Satae,
Raiders: 1 Brad Abbey, 2 Nick Cotric 3 Michael Oldfield, 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Jordan Rapana 6 Blake Austin, 7 Sam Williams 8 Dunamis Lui, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 Shannon Boyd, 11 Iosia Soliola, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 13 Josh Papalii, 14 Emre Guler, 15 Junior Paulo, 16 Siliva Havili, 17 Luke Bateman