David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Big Manu provides the few highlights

The Sharks had their hands full containing Manu Vatuvei at Mt Smart. Photo / Getty Images
The Sharks had their hands full containing Manu Vatuvei at Mt Smart. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors' changing sheds carried the mood of a losing team after they squeezed past the Sharks; now they must ready themselves for a trip to Newcastle who this week tied up some loose ends.

The Knights have appointed former coach Rick Stone to guide them in 2015-16, as Wayne Bennett returns to Brisbane.

That will have given the beleaguered club an uplift, while at the Warriors nobody was smiling after a sloppy and error-ridden second-half that saw them held scoreless by the team wallowing at the bottom of the NRL ladder.

"Yeah, we're pretty disappointed with how we played today but two points is two points and we've just got to be happy with that," said winger Manu Vatuvei.

"Just a few little errors here and there [let us down]. Our defence was pretty good but our attack was pretty average. We'll go back to the drawing board and start all over again for next week against the Knights."

Vatuvei's disappointment belied an outstanding individual performance in which he led the way for his team, scoring a vital first-half try and making 19 runs for a game-high 212 metres. He outshone the entire starting forward pack, along with centre-turned winger Ngani Laumape, while prop Jacob Lillyman was the best of the middle men, despite playing with an ankle injury sustained in last week's win over Canberra.

"Manu was outstanding for us," said halfback Thomas Leuluai. "The work he does for this team sometimes goes unnoticed,

"Without him I'm not sure we would have got the two points, to be honest."

Leuluai was critical of his side's execution and their inability to lock up the Sharks' big ball-carriers, with the likes of Chris Heighington, Matt Prior and Andrew Fifita - who epitomised the visitors' never-say-die attitude by playing on with a badly broken arm - constantly offloading to keep the Warriors' defence on the back foot.

"We pushed the pass in the second-half and I was guilty of that and I'm pretty angry with myself for that. And defensively they got too many offloads away which made us have to work harder, took a lot of juice out of us and we had to really hang on towards the end.

"We made silly errors and some of them, you can't really practise to nullify them, it's just individuals have to make sure they make their plays."

Warriors interchange prop Ben Matulino was another strong contributor, but was only interested in praising Lillyman and the man nicknamed "The Beast" (Vatuvei), while also agreeing that the result was bittersweet.

"He [Lillyman] was one of the main reasons why we got over the line today alongside Manu. They really set the platform and gave us go-forward and they played awesome today," he said.

"It was pretty ugly. Personally, I thought we lost the game. It wasn't as good a performance as we thought it would be but we've got to win those games if we're going to make the playoffs."

With just four rounds remaining, the win leaves the Warriors in sixth position and well-placed to make a challenge for a top-four berth.

With six teams between fourth and ninth all locked on 26 competition points, points differential is likely to determine which teams make the top eight.

Top metre-eaters

Manu Vatuvei: 19 runs for 212m, one try, seven tackle-breaks, one line break.
Ngani Laumape: 17 runs for 180m, two tries, four tackle-breaks.
Jacob Lillyman: 17 runs for 155m, one tackle-break.
Ben Matulino: 14 runs for 112m, three offloads.
Sam Tomkins: 12 runs for 96m, three tackle-breaks, one offload.

- NZ Herald

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