NZ Warriors beat Cronulla Sharks 16-12
The Warriors have been pushed all the way by a relentless Sharks team eventually coming out 16-12 victors at Mt Smart Stadium, in Auckland, this afternoon.
Bottom placed versus top-eight contender? You wouldn't have known it with a scrappy encounter that could have gone either way.
The Sharks were heroic in defence and, after a fluid first half, the Warriors had what was probably their worst second half of the season, failing to score a single point.
The game, in front of a crowd of 13,939 and played in fine conditions, was a test of the depth of both teams with the Warriors playing without Konrad Hurrell and Shaun Johnson and the Sharks without their captain Paul Gallen. Andrew Fifita, in a show of strength, played through a suspected broken arm to give the Sharks a chance.
He eventually hopped from the field with nine minutes to go.
The Warriors also lost centre Dane Nielsen (suspected concussion) and wing Tui Lolohea (hamstring strain) forcing a reshuffle of the backline with two of the club's bigger men, captain Simon Mannering and utility Ben Henry, filling the centre spots.
It also leaves the Warriors looking dangerously thin in the backs ranks.
The Sharks came into the match having won the past five encounters against the Warriors including the club's heaviest defeat this year- the 37-6 loss which resulted in coach Matt Elliott being shown the door - but the form was with the Warriors who sat at ninth on the table while the Sharks were last.
The Cronulla side suffered an early set back with Gallen being ruled out before the game with a virus but they played out of their skins both in defence and, in the second half, in attack.
There were positives for the Warriors though with Ngani Laumape, standing in for Hurrell, making a number of strong runs; Manu Vatuvei looking strong on both attack and defence and Sam Tomkins and Thomas Leuluai linked well.
Despite the dour second half performance Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said he was happy his side could come out with two points.
"It was a pretty scrappy win but two points is two points at this time of the year, and we needed to win. We haven't backed up after a big win . . so we will take it.
"We certainly were challenged today. We have got to give a huge amount of credit to the opposition and the way they fought. They have got, I guess, only pride to play for and with all the losses in their team they really turned up.
"That's probably a positive out of that game, that under all that pressure we managed to hold them out."
Sharks' stand-in coach James Shepherd was chuffed with his sides performance, despite the loss.
"After the first half, with the weight of possession in that first half, to go in 16-6 down we were reasonably happy- our effort was great, our attitude was great and to keep them scoreless in the second half it was a magnificent defensive display.
Blokes were working really hard for each other . . . and we might have grabbed it there in the end." Stand-in captain Jeff Robson said it had been a frustrating year but the players were now playing for pride.
"We have had a lot of close games and a lot of stuff go on outside of footy that we can't control. The way the boys turned up today really showed the pride that we have in the club and we are just going to play for each other in the back end of the year and hopefully get a few wins and get off that wooden spoon."
The Sharks defence was tested early and they stood up to the Warriors for four straight sets until Laumape muscled over in the right hand corner for his third try of the year after seven minutes.
Chad Townsend, playing against his old club, converted from the sideline to put the Warriors ahead by six.
It wasn't until the 11th minute that the Sharks got possession in the Warriors' half. It was a frenetic few minutes before Tinirau Arona, filling in for captain Gallen, dived on a loose ball to score in the 15th minute.
Two quick penalties conceded by the Sharks saw the Warriors with a wealth of possession but unable to make it past the Sharks' defence.
The fluidity of the Warriors' play in the first 10 minutes went missing during this period but eventually the pressure was too much and Laumape scored a second try after outpacing the Sharks defence.
Wing Manu Vatuvei had the Warriors third try after half an hour going over in the tackle of about three Sharks' players after a magnificent pass from Nielsen. It was his 14th try of the year.
The Warriors had a number of chances that they didn't quite convert in the first half but looked by far the better side with more than 60 per cent of the possession. By the break the Sharks had made almost twice as many tackles as the Warriors.
The second half was a completely different story. The Warriors looked sloppy and failed to score.
Centre Nielsen was tipped in a dangerous tackle by Sharks' forward Sam Tagataese 12 minutes into the half with some serious concern about his condition. He was able to walk from the field and Tagataese was put on report. Mannering shifted to centre.
It was the Sharks' who scored the next points, the first of the second half after 20 minutes, with Sosaia Feki jumping over Laumape to get on the end of a Jeff Robson ball to score. The try put the Sharks right back in the game.
After that it seemed the play was all the Sharks way and possession was all but even. Townsend had a chance to push the Warriors out to six ahead with a penalty with four minutes to go, but missed.
The Warriors, who play the Knights at Hunter Stadium next weekend, just managed to hold on. McFadden said half Johnson is expected to return to the team this week.
Warriors 16 (N. Laumape 2, M. Vatuvei tries C.Townsend 2 conversions)
Sharks 12 (T.Arona, S. Feki tries M. Gordon 2 conversions)
HT: Warriors 16-6