League: Victory tribute to Warrior Wiki

By Peter Jessup

Warriors 28
Tigers 26

The Tigers lost an entertaining stunner in front of an expectant home crowd at Sydney's historic Leichhardt Oval yesterday but afterwards lined up to applaud Ruben Wiki's achievement of 300 games.

Beaten coach Tim Sheens who gave the now 35-year-old his chance as a teenager 16 years ago presented the Warriors champion with an autographed Tigers jersey.

Wiki said Sheens gave him good advice when he ran out for his first game on the same ground mid-1993.

"He told me to go out and enjoy myself."

Yesterday, he looked like he did and the 28-26 win was icing on the cake as he celebrated the feat of becoming just the 10th player to make 300 appearances.

Wiki ran about like a spring chicken, chasing the ball and making midfield breaks. When he got through the line after Ben Te'o put a high shot on him he looked disappointed as the referee called him back to award a penalty.

The Warriors scooted out to a 16-0 lead with some aggressive dummy-half running from Ian Henderson, who scored the first try, good support play all round and an improved kick-chase.

The shifting of Nathan Fien to five-eighth and reintroduction of Grant Rovelli at halfback worked well. Rovelli ran with the ball more as he sought to prove himself after being dropped for a week. Michael Witt slotted in smoothly off the bench.

They played smart, kicking out when they needed a breather against the side that plays the fastest game in the NRL.

Twice in the first half the Tigers enjoyed repeat sets of six on the Warriors' goal-line thanks to mistakes and penalties but twice the defence rallied to keep them out.

It was a piece of Benji Marshall magic that got the Tigers their only first-half points as he crabbed sideways before splitting Fien and Jerome Ropati then delivering a back-flip pass to wing Taniela Tuiaki for 16-6 at the break.

Some of Marshall's passes were wayward, and some of his defence ordinary, but so was that of some of his teammates, who didn't look too keen on stopping the Warriors forwards.

But the Tigers regularly strung long, accurate passes together and then they had no trouble getting outside the Warriors runners, putting centre Chris Lawrence in for a try and sending Tuiaki over twice more out wide.

They closed to 16-all, then the Warriors broke away again with Sonny Fai delivering the last pass for Lance Hohaia - 28-16.

Tuiaki's last touchdown with 79 minutes and 47 seconds showing on the clock brought the gap back to two points and had the Tigers crowd believing reliable goal-kicker Brett Hodgson would send the game to extra time. But the ball went left by a metre.

"I was having a heart attack watching Hodgo's last kick," Wiki said. "I don't think I could have gone another 10 minutes."

It was a quality game played at pace, the home side completing 30 of 41 sets, the Warriors using the poorer share of possession to complete 24 of 33.

Under-20s second rowers Fai and Ben Matulino both had better than average games and continue to show great attacking potential. Rookie wing Malo Solomona was solid on debut, defusing some difficult kicks and showing power and pace in attack.

They now have the week off and collect another two points from the bye.

Try-scoring machine Manu Vatuvei should be recovered from his knee injury for their next game against the Bulldogs at Mt Smart in a fortnight and skipper Steve Price and centre Brent Tate will be back after State of Origin.

- NZ Herald

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