Humiliation to elation - a month after Matthew Elliott adopted the guise of a condemned man, the New Zealand Warriors coach branded his side's revival at the Sydney Roosters last night as the most courageous collective performance he had witnessed during his 16-year career.
The Australian reached the 250-game milestone in the NRL as his roster produced the grittiest defensive display of his 12-match reign as the Sonny Bill Williams-inspired Roosters were upset 23-12 at Allianz Stadium.
Twenty four hours after the British and Irish Lions roared, the premiership contenders were expected to crow - but brave defence and two opportunist second half tries enabled the Warriors to notch their fourth win in succession, and back-to-back triumphs over top four quality opposition.
Runaway tries to Glen Fisiiahi and Manu Vatuvei sealed the win before Shaun Johnson - who initially handed over the place kicking responsibilities to Feleti Mateo because of a groin injury - nailed a late penalty and field goal.
The Warriors playmaker also had a hand in the Warriors first half tries to Elijah Taylor and Ngani Laumape, though his successful pursuit of Michael Jennings when the NSW centre seemed certain to get the Roosters on the board in the 26th minute was his pivotal contribution.
Despite playing in pain after aggravating a long-standing niggle during training last week Johnson caught Jennings despite a 10-metre handicap, his teammates then regrouped to hold their line intact until Anthony Minichiello threw a forward pass to Mitchell Aubusson.
Fisiiahi provided the other act of individual brilliance when he slapped the ball free from Shaun Kenny-Dowall's grasp as the Kiwis centre was set to score and potentially square the contest at 16-16 with 14 minutes remaining.
Vatuvei, who is on light training duties due to hamstring and knee issues, surged 90m for the match-sealer four minutes after Kenny-Dowall's loose carry -- another significant play as the Warriors backed up the previous round's 18-16 home win over Manly with their first win in Roosters territory since 2009.
Elliott also has 112 Super League games with Bradford on his resume but last night's exploits eclipsed those other memorable moments as his team climbed to 11th, two wins outside the top eight ahead of this weekend's bye.
"In the courage stakes and effort stakes it's as good as I can remember," he said.
"They had to come up with some special stuff. The effort, resolve and the resilience to come up with that result was just a marvel."
The Warriors had to combat Williams, who scored on the brink of halftime to overcome a 10-point deficit, defend five line drop outs during the second spell and were dominated in the offloading statistics 16 to five.
Yet they hung tough and scrambled to frustrate a Roosters side that won by two points at Eden Park in round five because Johnson could not land a conversion to send the clash into golden point.
He more than made amends for that miss last night, the ignominy of being replaced during the Warriors record 62-6 loss at Penrith on May 18 is also a fading memory.
"Michael Jennings is pretty quick and Shaun ran him down from behind which was pretty special," Elliott said.
"And I think the police have been called in for Fish (Fisiiahi) for pick pocketing.
"Wow, it was one helluva of a play and a game-changing play."
That desperation was non-existent against the Panthers, an embarrassment that continues to be a talking point for Elliott.
"I understand that being a reference point but people don't often talk about the six weeks prior where we were building," he said.
"We got in that situation where we leading into the 70th minute and didn't win. That really took it's toll," he said, referring to depressing losses to South Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and the Bulldogs.
"The Penrith game really caught our attention and we now have a clearer understanding of what works for us."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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