Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors edge Titans to keep season alive

Sam Rapira is tackled by Titans players in the round 24 clash between the Warriors and Gold Coast. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Rapira is tackled by Titans players in the round 24 clash between the Warriors and Gold Coast. Photo / Getty Images

Warriors 24 Titans 22

The top eight dream is alive. It was a stuttering, somewhat nervous performance from the Warriors, who didn't take the lead until just before the hour, but they showed grit and flair in equal measures to bring their season back from the brink.

They were extremely fortunate - doing their best to blow the match in the last few minutes and Titans winger Kevin Gordon was millimetres from scoring a match winning (and season ending) try with 30 seconds on the clock, with the video referee ruling that he grounded the ball on, instead of before the deadball line.

It was just their fourth win on Australian soil in 14 games, as they trailed 16-6 just before halftime before scoring three consecutive tries.

Jerome Ropati marked his return with two well taken tries and Konrad Hurrell, who saw more ball than he had in the previous three weeks, was immense.

Dane Nielsen's return was brief, as he left the field just after halftime with a shin injury.

The Warriors had enough possession to win this game convincingly, before were thwarted by their own attacking inadequacies and some brave scrambling defence by the Titans. The home side also lost two forwards to injury, after losing captain Greg Bird before the kickoff.

The Warriors face the Raiders next weekend at Mt Smart, before a last round fixture against the Dragons in Wollongong.

There were the usual catalogue of bizarre errors from the Warriors, mistakes that mortify coaches and frustrate fans. Thomas Leulual kicked out on the full in the first set of the match, Kevin Locke did a impersonation of NFL quarterback in running across the sideline as he returned the ball early in the second half and Ben Matulino decided last night was the time to try an attacking grubber on halfway.

The Gold Coast, in all their various incarnations, have never truly shined in the NRL. Perhaps it is the wonderful climate, maybe the perfect lifestyle, but the Giants, Chargers, Seagulls and latterly the Titans have always been completely overshadowed by their Queensland counterparts further north.

But they are a well drilled football side, who had a solid home record (seven wins in eleven) coming into this game.

After just three minutes Kevin Gordon climbed above Jerome Ropati, before slipping it to Ryan James for a simple try. It wasn't a good start for the visitors- penalties and goal line dropouts were conceded - but they showed fortitude to not concede a second early try.

On their first attack, the Warriors struck gold when Nielsen, who was only cleared to play on Friday, profited from some swift work down the left flank. The large Kiwi contingent at Skilled Park hoped it would be the start of a revival but instead James scored another fairly soft try in the 19th minute, after the Warriors showed a notable lack of urgency defending on the fifth tackle.

The Warriors dominated the next 15 minutes but came up empty; they were awarded six consecutive penalties (their season average before this match was 5.7, the fewest in the NRL) but were too often guilty of going east to west, running lateral when straight was the necessary recipe. There was also, as has been evident all season, a telling lack of composure on fifth tackle plays.

The anxiety of the previous weeks seemed to tell. Balls were thrown forward, no look passes confused no one except the intended recipient.

After dominating the next 15 minutes but coming up empty, the Titans extended their lead through what may come to be termed 'another Manu moment'.

Vatuvei had a clear run at an towering Aidan Selzer bomb, but unfortunately managed to bounce the ball off his chest straight into the arms of a grateful
Brad Takairangi.

The first half was rescued by a late Ropati try - the veteran tiptoeing down the sideline after clever work from Kevin Locke and a sensational Hurrell try five minutes into the second half saw the Warriors wrestle back momentum. Ropati scored his second in the 62nd minute, after a snappy burst by Nathan Friend and some delightful hands from Johnson. However the Titans came back a try to Anthony Don in the 77th minute to ensure a rollercoaster finish.

Titans 22 (R. James 2, B. Takarangi, A. Don tries; A. Selzer 3 goals)
Warriors 24 (D. Nielsen, J. Ropati 2, K. Hurrell tries; S. Johnson 3 goals).
HT: 16-10.

- Herald on Sunday

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