Against all odds, something is cooking at the Warriors.
Their unlikely late season revival has continued, with another upset win in the NRL.
Despite being down to 12 men on two separate occasions – as Kane Evans spent 20 minutes in the sin bin – the Warriors somehow trumped the Cronulla Sharks 18-16 on Saturday.
It was a gutsy effort, as they came back from a 16-6 halftime deficit, against a team desperate to reach the finals for the seventh straight season.
After not tasting victory for almost two months, the Warriors have now managed back-to-back wins for the first time in 2021, after they snapped their losing streak against the Tigers last week.
The Sharks were rudderless without Shaun Johnson, but the victory was built on pure defensive grit, as the Warriors refused to yield, despite periods of enormous pressure.
They also showed maturity in the second half, particularly to manage the final quarter.
The Warriors’ upswing has come too late for a playoff charge, but it will give the team – and the club – tremendous heart for next season.
Evans was sinbinned in both halves, first for throwing punches at Will Chambers, then for a head slam tackle on the same player.
Evans was unlucky with the second dismissal, which was a harsh decision, but the prop had a shocker, as almost everything he tried went wrong, as he was also placed on report twice.
The Warriors were boosted by the return of Addin Fonua-Blake and Matt Lodge, along with Josh Curran and Chanel Harris-Tavita.
Euan Aitken was retained in the back row, with Kodi Nikorima in the No 14 jersey.
They made an ideal start, when Dallin Watene Zelezniak finished off a sweeping backline move in the third minute, beating Ronaldo Mulitalo on the outside with pace and swerve.
They should have gone further ahead, as Viliami Vailea dived on a loose ball, but the bunker decided Chambers had been tackled without the ball, which was a curious decision.
A Sharks try was then chalked off, after a marginal, but correct obstruction call. But it was a warning, as Siosifa Talakai had marched through the heart of their defence.
After all their hard work, the Warriors got caught napping on a short blindside, which allowed Will Kennedy to set Connor Tracey away.
The brain snap from Evans then completely changed the momentum of the game, after he threw a couple of punches at renowned sledger Chambers.
Chambers had got under his skin with some verbal abuse – after Evans coughed up on his second carry – but the former Parramatta forward had looked unfocussed, after trying a risky offload with his first touch.
The shorthanded Warriors conceded two tries in the final four minutes of the first half, with the second to Kennedy just 50 seconds before the hooter.
The Auckland club hadn’t managed to retrieve a halftime deficit this season, but a 55th minute Reece Walsh try gave them a lift, after Curran produced a lovely ball in contact.
Aitken then showed remarkable strength to pull out of two tackles and sprint over five minutes later, before Evans was marched again. He was initially penalised and put on report, before the bunker instructed it was more serious, though it looked an unintentional consequence of a forceful tackle.
But they defended stoutly and after a Walsh penalty put them ahead with 12 minutes to play, they were good enough to hang on.
Warriors 18 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Reece Walsh, Euan Aitken tries; Walsh 3 goals)
Sharks 16 (Connor Tracey, Briton Nikora, William Kennedy tries; Braydon Trindall 2 goals)
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