The answer to just how the Warriors pulled off one of the great comebacks in the club's history can be found two minutes before Krisnan Inu claimed his remarkable pinball wizard winning try.
Having battled not only the slick, incredibly polished Tigers but also a lopsided penalty count and a massive possession deficit, the Warriors had every right to be out on their feet with five minutes remaining. But the kick-chase on what would be their third-to-last set of the match suggested they weren't.
Remaining composed at the death has hardly been a trademark of this Warriors team but on Friday night they were exceptional. Instead of attempting a desperate trick-shot play, they kicked long. A wall of blue shirts hared after the kick. The line was immaculate. There was plenty of gas in the tank.
These Warriors are big but they are also lean and fit. They played right to the final whistle and received their reward.
With his Tigers side leading by two points and just four minutes on the clock, Benji Marshall inexplicably decided to run the ball on the last tackle. Had he kicked deep, the Warriors almost certainly wouldn't have won the game. For one of the great players of the modern era, it was an inexplicable, indefensible error.
Marshall's shocker opened the door, but the Warriors still had plenty of work to do to kick it off its hinges.
They probed left, where the entirely redeemed Manu Vatuvei did well to stay in play, allowing Shaun Johnson to cross-kick to the right flank. Inu played at left centre but this is a player with a gift for being in the right place at the right time, lurking under Johnson's kick. He batted the ball back to Lote Tuqiri, who dropped it back into Inu's grasp. He lunged, came up short, crawled, and lunged again. It was ugly. It was contentious. But at last a big decision went the Warriors' way.
"How does it feel?" asked Cleary. "It feels great. I'd like to bottle this feeling."
The early signs weren't quite so encouraging. The three tries they conceded came from the Warriors being unable to cope with the Tigers' speed and precision. Russell Packer, Feleti Mateo and Ukuma Ta'ai - three of the biggest units in the Warriors ranks - were all caught out. But no team could have lived with the Tigers in that opening 30 minutes, not when they were so palpably aided by a 4-0 penalty count that resulted in an almost two-to-one possession flow. Coach Ivan Cleary was a happy man at the post-match press conference. But he was also angry and fed up. He was angry that his side had almost been railroaded for a second week in a row. And he was fed up with Jared Maxwell and Shayne Hayne, the referees who in consecutive weeks had found plenty of fault with the Warriors but none at all with either the Broncos or Tigers.
"The last two weeks we have had a combined [first half] 7-0 penalty count against us, so that doesn't help," Cleary said. "It was the same two referees as well. I think the Tigers had an extra seven or eight sets in the first half."
All four of Friday night's penalties were discretionary. For example, when a Warrior trapped in a play-the-ball caused a Tigers fumble the ruling was a penalty. When the reverse occurred, the ruling was a knock-on.
"I couldn't see what we were doing too much different to what they were doing," said captain Simon Mannering, who gained little ground despite a running battle with the whistlers. "Obviously they saw it differently." While it made for a fraught atmosphere on the field, not everyone lost their sense of humour. Centre Lewis Brown could be heard through the referees' mikes discussing a rather tubby, brown streaker that had invaded the field at the end of the first half.
"What would you say if I asked you if you were related to that streaker?" Brown asked one of the officials. "I'd ask if you were too," came the reply.
Cleary, though, remained steadfastly unamused, saying he would raise the refereeing with the NRL: "It [the penalty count] was 9-4 tonight," he said. "In a semifinal that is horrendously lopsided. There were definitely some calls I think they [the referees] will be disappointed with."By Steve Deane Email Steve