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

NRL: Time to believe in the New Zealand Warriors?

Warriors 27 Titans 18
Simon Mannering was able to celebrate his milestone match with a win. Photo / Getty
Simon Mannering was able to celebrate his milestone match with a win. Photo / Getty

For Warriors fans, it might be time to start believing.

No one is getting carried away, as there has been many false dawns in the past few seasons, but tonight's 27-18 win over the Titans at least sets the club up well for the final third of the season.

There is still a lot of work to do, but at least the Warriors have an opportunity to launch a run at the playoffs, which looked a forlorn hope at the start of June.

They have now banked four wins in the last their five games and pushed the Sharks to golden point. Sure, the Warriors have benefited from the traditional Origin surge, but they've done all they can.

Tonight was a good example. The Titans are a dogged team and came out strongly, hoping for a repeat of last season's surprise win at Mt Smart. That looked on the cards for a period, especially during the first half, until the Warriors lifted in the last 20 minutes.

"You have to find different ways to win and we found a different way [tonight]," said Warriors coach Andrew McFadden. "We were a touch flat early but we built into the game. You have to give credit to the opposition, they pushed us, but it's been a good consistent run for us and we need a bye to freshen up and refocus for the last eight weeks."

It was an unconvincing display for much of the match in front of an expectant crowd, and was a step down from their effort against the Sharks. They struggled to shake off the persistent Titans until some individual magic from halfback Shaun Johnson broke the game open in the 66th minute. Bodene Thompson then scored a try from a scrum move five minutes later to seal the two points.

Ryan Hoffman was a late withdrawal due to a virus, with Mannering taking the captain's armband in his 250th NRL game and debutant Bunty Afoa coming into the 17.

The first half was a bit ugly. If there was a way to lose momentum, the Warriors found it with unforced errors, cheap penalties and poor option-taking. They conceded two tries, and only some desperate defence, with excellent last-ditch tackles from Tui Lolohea and Thompson, stopped the Titans from grabbing a couple more.

It wasn't a complete surprise - in the last few years the Warriors have often struggled to back up after an energy draining loss - but it was disappointing, especially given what was at stake.

After an emotional buildup to the match, with Mannering welcomed onto the field to a haka from the Warriors' NSW Cup team as he carried his two children, the Titans managed to silence the home crowd within three minutes.

Fullback Josh Hoffman ran 95m through turnstile-type defence as the home side failed to chase an attacking grubber kick near the Titans' line.

Blake Ayshford replied with a long-range intercept try, but it was unconvincing stuff and no surprise when the Gold Coast side scored again through winger Nene MacDonald.

Lolohea's 35th-minute try was crucial for belief, as was a Mannering tackle that stopped a promising Titans move in the shadows of halftime.

The second half was blighted by a gruesome broken ankle suffered by Titans centre Karl Lawton, which stopped proceedings for almost five minutes, before the Warriors found their finish in the final quarter.

Warriors 27 (B Ayshford, T Lolohea, S Johnson, B Thompson tries; I Luke 5 goals, Johnson field goal)
Titans 18 (J Hoffman, N MacDonald, C Cullen tries; T Roberts 3 goals)
Halftime: 10-10

- Herald on Sunday

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