Andrew Alderson

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NRL: Warriors graft out victory

Sam Rapira of the Warriors fends off Ryan Stig of the Knights. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Rapira of the Warriors fends off Ryan Stig of the Knights. Photo / Getty Images

Warriors 20
Knights 12

Last night was an indication of the intensity required to be a contender in the NRL, four matches before finals football.

Eventually the Warriors showed they had more of that quality than the Knights, moving to 28 points in the competition and leaving their hosts isolated in eighth on 26 points with the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs capable of closing the gap to just two points.

Despite being locked together on the table pre-match, the Knights had backed up from three straight wins by margins of 32, 40 and 18 points. They average the most line breaks and tackle breaks of any team in the competition.

The Warriors have missed the second-most tackles so they did well to impose such restrictions. They backed it up by scoring 16 unanswered points in the second half.

Neither side wilted in a display of valour mixed with exhaustion. Both demonstrated aggression on attack and a willingness to keep play flowing through offloads.

Defences were stretched yet lines were broken relatively little, at least for the first 58 minutes, as physical conditioning came to the fore.

The crucial period for the Warriors came between the 58th and 63rd minutes. Manu Vatuvei was served up a gap which he steamed into on his own 30m line, leaving his Newcastle opponents in a vacuum. His back-flip pass for Shaun Johnson to score was sublime, showing the Warriors remain a force on the counterattack.

Captain Simon Mannering's try shortly afterwards capitalised on a Knights spilt ball, proving they can seize on opposition vulnerability when required.

Newcastle glitches were rare in a solid first-half platform. Their completion rate was high (84 per cent) and kicking game solid as they worked the percentages to generate field position. In contrast, the Warriors could not match their visitors' for accuracy. Their completion rate was 59 per cent and they made 144 tackles, 31 more than the Knights. Limiting the score to 12-4 was commendable, given exhaustion was seeping in.

The Warriors' left edge struggled on both try-scoring occasions in the first 40 minutes. Vatuvei was turned and beaten to a Jarrod Mullen grubber by Akuila Uate who notched his 14th try of the season after a scoreless first quarter. There was debate whether Antonio Kaufusi obstructed the Warriors defence as a decoy runner before Mullen went to the boot on the right, but it was a skilful play and the Knights deserved to break the 0-0 deadlock.

Then at 6-4 up they did the same courtesy of a conjuring trick from Knights forward Zane Tetavano who slipped a ball out the back as he fell in the tackle. The Knights capitalised through Adam MacDougall who managed to dust the ball over the line before the evidence could be erased by Mannering's elbow.

The Warriors reciprocated in the 27th minute, stretching the Knights defence. A slick ball from Kevin Locke ushered Shaun Berrigan into the corner. Locke was smashed by Knights wing James McManus for his trouble. However, the Warriors custodian completed another strong game where his trademark elusive kick returns saved his forwards plenty of energy.

The Knights were let down by some crucial dropped balls in the second half, notably by Kurt Gidley and Uate which enabled the Warriors to claw back valuable territory and exert pressure.

One Warriors fan in the 13,279-strong crowd who could derive particular satisfaction from the win was John. He proposed to fiancee Mandy pre-match via the big screen. His one-knee antics on halfway were not in vain.

Warriors 20 (S. Berrigan, S.Johnson, S. Mannering, F. Mateo tries, J. Maloney 2 goals)

Knights 12 (A. Uate, A. MacDougall tries, K. Gidley 2 goals).

Halftime Knights 12-4.

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