The Gold Coast Titans hunger and determination to go down fighting paid off as they defeated the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland 27-26 on Saturday afternoon.
For the first 65 minutes, it was all the Warriors. They started strong, going over for their first try in the 4th minute through Jesse Arthars. The home team then went over again in the 7th minute courtesy of Josh Curran off a Reece Walsh flick pass and the Warriors were 12-0 up in less than 10 minutes. It took only minutes for them to find themselves extending their lead when Dallin Watene-Zelezniak scored off a perfectly timed bounce in the 13th minute, and they had more points than minutes played.
It was looking like a perfect finish to a rollercoaster season for the Warriors. They had a 16 point lead, they had their 2002 Grand Final team watching on, they were playing in front of a sell out crowd and they were having their club presentation on the field following the game. Nothing was going to break their spirit in their fourth game back at home as part of the homecoming series post-Covid.
The Titans had a sluggish start, and it looked like the Warriors were going to repay the favour from the last round of 2021 where the Titans had a dominant 44-0 victory over the Warriors, that was until AJ Brimson beat 4 defenders and went over the line in the 28th minute.
The Warriors hit back and extended their lead as Josh Curran found himself over for his 2nd try in the 35th minute after a Chanel Harris-Tavita cross field kick that had Curran racing against Brimson to see who could ground it first. The Warriors went into half time leading 20-6 and feeling pretty confident they could shut out the Titans.
The second half saw the Titans score first, with Beau Fermor going over 4 minutes in and Tanah Boyd adding the extras. The Titans were starting to build, gaining more possession and field position, that was until Viliami Vailea ran 60 metres to score for the Warriors in the 52nd minute with CHT adding the extras.
Departing Warriors fullback Reece Walsh was clutching at his chest with a suspected rib injury and was taken from the field, that is when the Warriors got a little too comfortable with their 14 point lead and the Titans started fighting back.
The arm wrestle slowed both teams down with the try scoring, but the physicality didn’t drop off. The fatigue started to show in both sides, but the Titans found another gear with 7 minutes to go when fullback Jayden Campbell darted through some scattered Warriors defence, and everyone started shuffling to the edge of their seats.
Paul Turner then scored for the Titans in the 75th minute and with Boyd adding the extras, it was a 2 point game with less than 5 minutes to go and the Warriors faithful were getting a little nervous.
A high shot on Campbell by Addin Fonua-Blake in the 79th minute handed the Titans a chance to level the scores with a penalty being awarded. Boyd successfully kicked the goal and with 30 seconds to go, it was going to be a golden point game. Walsh was seen on the sidelines trying to communicate to coach Stacey Jones that he wanted to get back on the field.
Boyd would be the hero for the Titans, slotting a field goal in the 83rd minute, delivering the Titans their first back-to-back wins for the season.
Even though both teams were out of finals contention weeks ago, they have continued to play for pride and for their supporters. Nothing is as exciting as a team coming back in the final 15 minutes and taking the game into golden point, regardless of where they sit on the ladder.
The Titans finish the season in 13th position, a disappointing result compared to last season where they made finals. The Warriors currently finish 15th, 14th if Newcastle are beaten by 25+ points when they face Cronulla tomorrow. Both teams will look at what worked and what didn’t in their 2022 campaigns, focus on a strong pre-season and a better finish in 2023.
The Warriors will start packing up their final temporary home in Redcliffe and make their way home after 3 testing years in Australia during the pandemic. It is evident that the Warriors thrive when they play at home,despite the outcome of today’s game, and their supporters have a lot to look forward to next year with home games in Auckland, Napier and Wellington, as well as new coaching staff, some fresh faces joining the playing squad and no more relocating to keep the competition alive.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS: 26 TRIES: J. Arthars, J. Curran 2, D. Watene-Zelezniak, V. Vailea GOALS: R. Walsh 2/4, C. Harris-Tavita 1/1
GOLD COAST TITANS: 27 TRIES: A. Brimson, B. Fermor, J. Campbell, P. Turner GOALS: T. Boyd 4/4 PENALTY GOALS: T. Boyd 1/1 FIELD GOALS: T. Boyd 1/2
LOZ’S STAND OUT PLAYERS: J. Curran (WAR), D. Watene-Zelezniak (WAR), C. Harris-Tavita (WAR), G. Marzhew (GCT), J. Fifita (GCT), T. Boyd (GCT)