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Storm 12

Warriors 20

There hasn't been an arm wrestle with this much tension since Sylvester Stallone in Over the Top. And they threw in the Hollywood climax to boot.

The Warriors played all the football in an absorbing second half but struggled to find a try despite several golden opportunities before a piece of Shaun Johnson magic sent Lewis Brown over in the 77th minute to seal the victory.

The Storm threatened to steal the match but it would have been the most unjust result since the Kiwis lost to a late John Ribot try in 1985 at Carlaw Park.

From being on the highway to hell early in the season with a 0-3 start, the Warriors are now taking steps on the stairway to heaven and will contest the second grand final in their history on Sunday.

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The Warriors were immense last night, with heroes all over the park as they came up with their most complete 80 minute performance of the season.

It also gives Ivan Cleary the most symmetrical finish since the Pyramids were put in place. He had his last Warriors' game as a player at a grand final; now his final bow as a coach will be on the most important Sunday of the year.

Cleary sprung three changes in his starting lineup; bringing in Lance Hohaia, Russell Packer and Elijah Taylor at the expense of Aaron Heremaia, Feleti Mateo and Sam Rapira.

It was a nightmare start for the Warriors. Sika Manu earned a penalty after being held down and the same player then blasted through the tackles of Krisnan Inu and James Maloney to dot down near the posts in the fourth minute. Fortunately their response was immediate; after Bill Tupou was stopped just short of the line, the Warriors went from side to side before Tupou was the recipient of a clever Krisnan Inu tap back from a Shaun Johnson bomb. This seemed to give the visitors heart. Billy Slater knocked on a James Maloney bomb then a Warriors set move paid immediate dividends.

From a Michael Luck offload - itself about as rare as sightings of the South Island moose - a gleeful Maloney scooted under the posts. The Warriors then had two fortunate escapes, Matt Duffie bombing a great opportunity by cutting back inside, but also showed great scrambling defence, while Inu and then Maloney exhibited cat like reflexes to defuse Storm grubbers.

A momentary lapse in concentration cost the Warriors dearly in the 35th minute and a 12-point turnaround. First, Mannering failed to find his outsides with a two man overlap and from the resulting scrum Slater sent Beau Champion on a 60m sprint to the line. A Maloney penalty after Smith had been penalised for stripping the ball sent the Warriors to the sheds narrowly ahead at the break.

Locke was centimetres away after the Warriors forced a repeat set and laid seige in the Storm half; Johnson was dancing, Mateo was offloading and Locke a fraction ambitious with a pass to an open Manu Vatuvei. Momentum ebbed and flowed, before Locke had a rush of blood to the head, kicking on the first tackle after trying to beat the Storm kick chase on the outside. The Warriors were dominant, forcing another repeat set but Duffie somehow eluded Vatuvei in the in-goal to prevent a third.

The Storm then did the impossible; in the 67th minute Vatuvei soared to catch a towering Johnson bomb but from three metres out, the defence held the big man out. Brown was over the line but the try was rubbed out for a Locke knock on earlier but the centre, who was one of the best on field, had his chance to be a hero nine minutes later after a dazzling piece of Johnson trickery won the game.

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Warriors: 20 (L. Brown, J. Maloney, B. Tupou tries; J Maloney 4 goals)

Storm: 12 (B. Champion, S. Manu tries; C Smith 2 goals).