Michael Burgess

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

NRL: Gritty Warriors edge Titans

Ben Matulino (L) of the Warriors celebrates with Manu Vatuvei after scoring a try during the round 11 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the NZ Warriors. Photo / Getty.
Ben Matulino (L) of the Warriors celebrates with Manu Vatuvei after scoring a try during the round 11 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the NZ Warriors. Photo / Getty.

Warriors 24
Titans 16

The Warriors will aim to hit much higher heights, but this was a step in the right direction.

For long periods it was an untidy display from the Auckland club. They dominated the game but it wasn't reflected on the scoreboard.

But they showed heart to come back from a halftime deficit and didn't concede a single point in the second half to seal their third win in four games.

Shaun Johnson limped off with an ankle injury - to go with the groin complaint he took into the game, which had prevented him from goal kicking.

Siliva Havili and Nathan Friend shared the hooking duties to great effect and David Fusitua, who was a late inclusion for Kevin Locke, continues to impress.

Numerous times throughout the match the Warriors threatened to bolt clear - but the Gold Coast side were like an annoying tourist tout in Surfers Paradise that you just can't shake off.

There were the usual inexplicable mistakes - Konrad Hurrell throwing a crazy pass over the sideline, Townsend trying an ill-fated kick right on halftime and Suaia Matagi ignoring an unmarked Sam Tomkins to bomb a try. That kind of play, combined with a sloppy completion rate kept the home side in the game in the first half.

The Gold Coast side had started this season in rare form - and topped the NRL ladder after six rounds. They have fallen away since then and had a depleted side last night, missing Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Albert Kelly, amongst many others.

Hurrell showed his enigmatic side last night. He reminded of his inexperience with some costly errors but there was much more good than bad. He looked like a latter day Chris Close or Mal Meninga with some of his bullocking runs and had two outstanding assists to set up both of Fusitua's tries.

In the first half the Warriors did the one thing they were desperate not to do - they kept handing the Titans initiative with penalties (7-2 at halftime) and mistakes. The makeshift Gold Coast team grew in confidence and took their chances; all three of their first half tries came directly from Warriors' errors or penalties.

Things started promisingly, as Ben Matulino scored the first try of the match, for the third successive week. It's an remarkable statistic - if it was cricket eyebrows might be raised - as Matulino had scored just nine tries in more than 135 games before his current streak started.

The Gold Coast's reply, through Dave Taylor, came after an unfortunate Tomkins mistake.

Johnson scored a classic try off a Fusitua offload to restore the Warriors advantage. But it couldn't be maintained, as Taylor bulldozed through again and only some superb Ngani Laumape defence prevented further damage.

A Fusitua try (37th minute) had the Warriors sailing into halftime, before the Titans got lucky from Townsend's kick.

A powerful Simon Mannering try took them back into the lead in the 46th minute, the lock forward forcing the ball despite four defenders hanging off him. Feleti Mateo then created the space for Hurrell to send Fusitua over. The visitors should have scored on a couple more occasions but a combination of courageous defence and poor execution ensured a nervy finish.

Titans 16 (D. Taylor 3 tries, B. Henry 2 goals)
Warriors 24 (B. Matulino, S. Johnson, D. Fusitua 2, S. Mannering tries. C. Townsend 2 goals)

Halftime: 16-14

- Herald on Sunday

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