Konrad Hurrell performed the kiss of life with a powerhouse offensive display yet the New Zealand Warriors still had to dodge a bullet before keeping their NRL playoff hopes alive with a controversial 24-22 victory over the Gold Coast last night.
Hurrell's stunning individual try five minutes after halftime, veteran Jerome Ropati's second early in the final quarter and a penalty by Shaun Johnson - after an offside Albert Kelly had his 90-metre intercept try ruled out - seemingly assured the Warriors of registering a sixth straight win over the Titans.
But a 77th minute converted try by Anthony Don set up a dramatic finish which culminated in Titans coach John Cartwright claiming the match officials denied Aiden Sezer an opportunity to send a crucial round 24 clash into golden point.
Cartwright was outraged that Warriors' five-eighth Thomas Leuluai was not penalised for sliding into Gordon with a foot outstretched as the wing forced a Sezer cross kick on the dead ball line in the final minute.
A try was justifiably ruled out but Cartwright and co-captain Nate Myles were amazed Leuluai wasn't penalised for dangerous play.
"Mate, how can you miss it? Kevvie got knocked out. Are you going to sit there and tell me that they missed it in such a crucial game with semifinal positions on the line and they're going to say 'oh sorry we missed it'.
"It's blatantly obvious, I'm not sitting here whinging about it, you cop your medicine," he said before pinpointing another pivotal inconsistency.
"If you penalise Albert Kelly, you'll have penalties for every set of six in the game. Have a look at Sezer in the last set when he put that kick up, you can't tell me one of them were onside."
Myles said he tried to highlight Leuluai's slide to the on field referees Jared Maxwell and Gerard Sutton, to no avail.
"All they were saying was 'it's upstairs, it's upstairs' and it goes upstairs and we're all looking at the screen watching someone fly in with their feet."
Warriors coach Matt Elliott claimed Leuluai made no contact with Gordon though replays suggest the pair did collide after Manu Vatuvei tried to bat Sezer's kick dead.
"It was pretty clear there was no contact with the ball, or the player or anything else," Elliott argued after witnessing a near meltdown by his team after Johnson's penalty gave the Warriors an eight-point buffer with 12 minutes to play.
Leuluai said there was no intent to hurt Gordon.
"The ball was there for both of us to go for. I wasn't too sure if I made any contact."
Elliott sympathised with Cartwright as a fellow coach but argued the Titans were also fortunate Ryan James was awarded his second try by the video referees Steve Chiddy and Neil Wharton when Sam Rapira and Kevin Locke combined to possibly prevent the prop touching down.
Ultimately Elliott was simply relieved to watch the Warriors snap a three-match losing streak to stay in contention for the finals series with two rounds of the regular season remaining.
They improved to 10th temporarily but dropped a spot when North Queensland climbed into eighth at the Titans expense when beating Newcastle 26-6 in Townsville later last night.
And if Canberra - the Warriors next opponent in Auckland on Saturday upset Manly this afternoon they will slip back to 12th in a logjam a point outside the eight - but with a potentially fatal -84 differential.
Elliott was pleased the side reduced a 16-6 deficit shortly before halftime when Ropati scored his first but was not as happy with the Warriors' work as the contest headed to a thrilling conclusion.
"I was a little frightened (when Gordon was denied) but I guess we shouldn't have been in that situation.
"We probably could have handled the last 10 minutes a little better but I'm really proud of how we turned that second half around and fought hard for a large part of it."
With six minutes to play - and the Titans needing to score twice - Gordon was thwarted by a legitimate try-saver by Leuluai and Elijah Taylor also produced a desperate defensive play before Don crossed out wide to give the Titans hope.
Elliott singled out the hard-running Hurrell and Ropati's successful comeback to first grade as the Warriors savoured only their third win on Australian soil this season.
Ropati recovered from an early defensive lapse to notch as double in his first appearance since May while Hurrell eclipsed his 12-try haul of 2012 when dissected two defenders and eluded two more before diving under the crossbar.
"I thought his performance made a huge difference for us," Elliott said after Hurrell complemented his attacking game with a tighter defensive effort.
"He's got a lot of improvement in him and you're starting to see that."
NZ Warriors 24 (Jerome Ropati 2, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) Gold Coast Titans 22 (Ryan James 2, Brad Takairangi, Anthony Don tries; Aiden Sezer 3 goals). HT: 10-16
- © Fairfax NZ News
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