Stacey Jones set up twin tries in the dying minutes, in a stunning return to the NRL to send New Zealand to a thrilling 26-24 win over Manly at Brookvale on Sunday afternoon.
With the Warriors trailing 24-16 and seemingly on the way out against the Sea Eagles, Jones stepped up in his first game since 2005 to lay on tries for Brent Tate and Jerome Ropati to sneak the visitors home.
The 32-year-old got New Zealand back to within four points after a brilliant chip and chase on the fifth tackle set up Tate’s try in the 70th minute, before another pin-point kick drew the scores level one minute from time.
Taking the ball on the last tackle, Jones put up a cross-field chip that winger Manu Vatuvei batted back into the hands of Ropati, who dived over from close range.
Young winger Denan Kemp then showed poise to land a difficult sideline conversion to secure the two points for the Warriors.
After two years playing for Catalans in the English Super League, Jones showed he will be a major force for the Warriors, and said the win was testament to the side’s perseverance.
“God, I was blowing out there but the boys hung in there,” he told Grandstand.
“The first part of that second half we were just hanging in there. We knew we just had to get to our kick and push up a bit more.
“We thought Manly were tiring just as much as we were.”
The Sea Eagles scored the first two tries of the match to quickly open up a 10-0 lead, but conceded 16 points in eight minutes midway through the first half to trail 16-10 at the break.
Tries to Anthony Suniula, Adam Cuthbertson and Jamie Lyon handed the defending premiers a 24-16 buffer with just over a quarter of the game remaining, before Jones’s late heroics.
Just as they did last year before going on to win the premiership, Des Hasler’s side has now lost its opening two matches of the season, and will be looking to snap the streak against Penrith next weekend.
Warriors: 26 (B Tate 2, M Vatuvei, J Royal, J Ropati tries; D Kemp 3 conversions)
Sea Eagles: 24 (J Lyon 2, M Bani, A Suniula, A Cuthbertson tries; M Orford 2 conversions)