A stunning second-half comeback from the NZ Warriors clinched a 34-31 victory over a brave Canberra Warriors this afternoon.
In front of a parochial GIO Stadium crowd, the Raiders were dealt a series of blows early.
Within the first fifteen minutes, Canberra had lost Joseph Tapine to an ankle injury and Sebastian Kris and Ryan James to a friendly fire head clash.
For the rest of the game, they only had one man on the interchange, and it eventually proved too much.
In his 100th NRL game, Addin Fonua-Blake opened the scoring in the 6th minute, after some smart lead up work by Eliesa Katoa.
For the rest of the first half though, it was all Canberra.
With the loss of three players, Jack Wighton seemed to take it upon himself to return serve first.
George Williams held up his pass well for Wighton and he was in after a big right-hand fend on Kodi Nikorima.
Just four minutes later, they were in again. A smart dummy half play from Josh Hodgson put Ryan Sutton in against a backpedalling Warriors defence.
Ten minutes before the break, Hodgson put on a similar play and Iosia Soliola was over, extending their lead to 18-6.
The Raiders were on a roll. At first receiver, George Williams spotted a gap and beat some ordinary defence to score.
A field goal from Willams on the stroke of half time iced a terrific first half from Canberra.
Concerns over fatigue surfaced early in the second half for the Raiders. Nikorima was instrumental in the start of the comeback.
After organising some right-side attack, a channel opened midfield and he made a diagonal run to the line.
The Raiders hit back minutes later, with a left edge play from well inside the Raiders half.
Elliott Whitehead put Jarrod Croker in space and he turned the ball inside to Jordan Rapana.
His kick back infield was perfect and Whitehead led a queue of Raiders to score.
At 31-10 with thirty minutes remaining, Canberra had some breathing space.
That space didn’t last long. The Warriors scored 2 minutes later, after great lead up work from Ben Murdoch-Masila and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
The Raiders defence was in disarray and Bayley Sironen crashed over.
With just under twenty minutes remaining, Murdoch-Masila scored after Nikorima was again causing problems for Canberra.
Referee Henry Perenara was on the line for Nikorima’s pass inside but it certainly looked to have travelled forward.
At 31-22, fatigue had set in for the Raiders and it seemed only time could beat the Warriors.
Eight minutes later, the Warriors set up the grandstand finish. Sean O’Sullivan, with a strong Warriors debut, put Tohu Harris close.
He was able to turn in the tackle and find Tuivasa-Sheck. At close range, he wasn’t going to be stopped.
With just over two minutes remaining, the Warriors hit the front. Adam Pompey was put into a gap by Kodi Nikorima and he reached out to score.
The Warriors had looked to have achieved their best ever comeback.
But, Canberra wasn’t done yet. A short kick-off gave the Raiders one last chance.
A Williams cut out pass to Jordan Rapana looked to have stolen the show but some brilliant defence from Tuivasa-Sheck jolted the ball loose.
The Warriors had won a thriller against an injury-ridden Raiders unit.
Ricky Stuart answered no questions. Instead, the Raiders coach praised the efforts of his players and ended things there.
“I came here because it’s my job, I respect the fact you’ve got a job and I have got 20,000 [dollars] hanging over my head,” Stuart said.
“If I don’t turn up here tonight I get fined, if all of the fine money was going to the Ricky Stuart Foundation I would tell you the truth today because then the money is going to best cause I know of.
“I can’t tell you the truth because I’ll get fined, I’m not going to answer any questions, I’ve done my job.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3 points: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (WAR): His second-half effort for the Warriors was tremendous, running 140 metres, scoring a trie and pulling off a match-winning tackle in the final minutes
2 points: Jack Wighton (CAN): He was almost unstoppable in the first half as Canberra raced to a half time lead. His tactical kicking in the second half almost got the Raiders home.
1 point: Kodi Nikorima (WAR): He had one of his best games for the Warriors, involved in a number of tries. A couple of misses in defence kept him from the 3 points.