Michael Burgess

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

NRL: Warriors hold off Cowboys

Sam Rapira of the Warriors is tackled by Tariq Sims of the Cowboys. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Rapira of the Warriors is tackled by Tariq Sims of the Cowboys. Photo / Getty Images

Warriors 20
Cowboys 16

The Warriors often deliver the unexpected and this was one out of the box.

The Auckland team scored their first victory of 2014 - and their first win in Townsville for 12 years - with a gutsy display that showed what they are capable of.

The Cowboys had golden chances to steal a late win but it would have been a massive injustice, as the Warriors were the better side.

It was a performance that nobody saw coming, after the first two weeks.

The Warriors dominated for most of the match, making inroads up the middle, continually bending the Cowboys defensive line.

They led 8-6 at halftime and with less than 20 minutes on the clock had extended their lead by 14 points, before the home side launched a late, late re vival.

There was some heart stopping moments but the Auckland side showed remarkable courage to close out the game.

As always, redemption started up front. Sam Rapira was back to his best, constantly dragging in multiple defenders and usually landing on his front, allowing quick play the balls.

He was backed up well by Jacob Lillyman, while Sione Lousi illustrated his potential on attack and defence.

Last night there was purpose, passion, power - everything we had expected, and been promised, after an "exceptional'' pre-season.

Before the match the omens were not good. Townsville had been a one way trip to nowhere for the Auckland club for more than a decade. They had lost their previous eight games in the North Queensland capital, and the last four matches by at least 20 points.

The last time the Warriors beat the Cowboys was in 2002, when Stacey Jones was in the number seven jersey and Ivan Cleary was at fullback.

Coach Matt Elliott made a late change to his lineup, promoting Lousi into lock forward and shifting Feleti Mateo to the bench.

The Warriors started with intent, looking determined to amend for the flat performances of the past two weeks. Glen Fisiiahi opened the scoring in the 9th minute, after Jerome Ropati had cleverly let a long Chad Townsend pass float pass him to wards the wing.

There was more to come, Fisiiahi adding a second 10 minutes later, first to an inch perfect Shaun Johnson grubber. It polished off the best quarter the Warriors had produced in 2014 - strong forward drives, two tries and not a single error - but could it continue?

After he had earlier blew a certain try with an untimely stumble, Antonio Winterstein redeemed him self with a powerful touchdown in the 27th minute, bursting through three tacklers to score.

There were further chances for the Cowboys but the Warriors stayed strong, showing a defensive desperation and scrambling ability that wasn't evident in the first two weeks of the competition.

Konrad Hurrell made an instant impact in his first bow of 2014, making a 25 metre bust with his first touch and powering over from close range in the 55th minute to provide a handy lead.

The Cowboys needed to respond, but the Warriors kept asking all the questions and more constant pressure was rewarded when Lousi forced his way over between the posts in the 62nd minute to give the Auckland club a 14 point lead.

They needed to close it out but an awful mistake from Fisiiahi - dropping a bomb cold, though he should have been covered by Tomkins - gave the Cowboys hope, giving Michael Morgan a try with 14 minutes on the clock.

The home side lifted after that, and only a incredible last ditch tackle by Tomkins and Vatuvei kept Tariq Sims out soon afterwards. There were further chances but the Warriors hung tough to seal a nervous but crucial victory.

Cowboys 16 (A. Winterstein, M. Morgan, K. Feldt tries; J. Thurston 2 goals), Warriors 20 (G. Fisiiahi (2), K. Hurrell, S. Lousi tries; S. Johnson 2 goals). Halftime: 8-6

- Herald on Sunday

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