The Junior NZ Warriors remain in contention for the under-20s title after beating South Sydney 20-18 in the opening match of the Holden Cup finals series at ANZ Stadium tonight.
The two-time champions rebounded from a sloppy 48-4 loss to St George Illawarra in the final round of the regular season last weekend to prolong coach John Ackland's tenure before he joins the New Zealand Rugby League as national game development manager.
Facing a sudden death scenario after qualifying sixth, the Warriors recovered from a 10-point halftime deficit to avenge a 40-38 loss to the Rabbitohs in July.
They next face the winner of the qualifying final between second seeded Penrith and the third-ranked Sydney Roosters, who play the curtain raiser to the Cronulla and North Queensland elimination final at the Sydney Football Stadium tomorrow.
The only club to make the finals series in the six-year history of the national youth competition, the Warriors are still on track to emulate the deeds of the 2010 and 2011 championship-winning rosters.
In stark contrast to the regular season matches between the two sides -- where 26 tries were scored -- touchdowns were harder to come by although the Warriors did cross early.
Warriors fullback David Fusitua opened the scoring when he leapt between two defenders to latch on to a Mason Lino cross kick in the sixth minute -- a rare attacking opportunity as the Rabbitohs dominated the remainder of the opening spell.
South Sydney responded with a try to wing Siosala Tanginoa, Aaron Gray added the angled conversion and then the centre increased the Rabbitohs advantage when he beat three defenders from close range.
Ofa Felila crossed in the opposite flank five minutes before the break as the Warriors paid the penalty for turning over possession coming out out defence and although they finished the half on attack Eko Malu was thwarted next to the posts, enabling South Sydney to hold a 10-point advantage at the turn.
The Warriors were unable to build any concerted pressure in the first half as they were stymied by a 69 per cent completion rate.
They also made a patchy start to the second spell though the Warriors gradually made inroads and were rewarded in the 52nd minute when elusive five-eighth Tuimoala Lolohea stepped past three defenders to score between the posts.
The Warriors resurgence continued five minutes later when wing Metia Lisati ensured forced a Lino grubber to ensure they profited from back-to-back sets to square the ledger heading into the final quarter.
Although the Warriors fought back admirably their momentum was slowed by a freakish try to Rabbitohs halfback Christian Hazard in the 67th minute when Fusitua's attempt to push his grubber kick dead was propelled forward for the playmaker to score near the corner flag.
Fortunately for the Fusitua his teammates atoned for his lapse when the Warriors also capitalised on a grubber when Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard collected Lolohea's nudge.
Lino had difficulties with the kicking tee but slotted the one that mattered from 11-metres in from touch to eight minutes from the hooter.
NZ Warriors 20 (David Fusitua, Tuimoala Lolohea, Metia Lisati, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard tries; Mason Lino 2 goals) South Sydney 18 (Siosala Tanginoa, Aaron Gray, Ofa Felila, Christian Hazard tries; Aaron Gray goal). HT: 4-14
- © Fairfax NZ News
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