The Junior New Zealand Warriors are through to their third National Youth Competition title decider in four years by maintaining their post-season momentum to eliminate the Canterbury Bulldogs in 16-try thriller at ANZ Stadium tonight.
A 44-point loss to St George Illawarra heading into the finals series was ultimately no cause for concern as a squad reinforced by key players previously on NSW Cup duty with the Auckland Vulcans is now in prime position to send coach John Ackland to a NZRL development role on a winning note thanks to a resurgent 54-38 victory.
The Warriors, champions in 2010-11,face either minor premiers Canberra or Penrith on Grand Final day on Sunday despite conceded 34 unanswered points before finishing the curtain raiser to the South Sydney and Manly NRL preliminary final in style.
Since recovering from a 10-point halftime deficit in their first sudden death encounter to beat South Sydney the sixth-ranked Warriors have thrashed the Sydney Roosters and now a second higher-ranked opponent.
The Warriors initially picked up where they left on in their 58-6 rout of the Roosters seven days earlier, constructing three well-constructed tries until the Bulldogs roused from a bye-induced slumber.
After giving the Warriors a 16-point head start - Raymond Faitala-Mariner completed the best effort to open the scoring in the ninth minute after they swept downfield from their own goal line - the Bulldogs mounted a worrying resurgence.
Five tries in a calamitous 20-minute period for the Warriors enabled the Bulldogs to build a 28-16 halftime lead - the siren providing the only respite for the Kiwis.
Giant wing John Sila's defensive capabilities were exposed when Metia Lisati scored the Warriors third but he eventually made amends in style to boost his try tally to a remarkable 23 in 11 games.
The first time Sila was given space on the left flank he left Tuimoala Lolohea in his wake and then survived a bump from fullback David Fusitua to touchdown by the corner flag before Patrick Templeman squared the ledger from wide out.
Fusitua's lax clearance of an innocuous chip kick enabled Bulldogs halfback Jaelen Feeney to score his second to put the Bulldogs in front then a Sila burst caused enough anxiety for Shaun Lane to stroll over five minutes from the break.
The Warriors missed only eight tackles to the Bulldogs 18 in the opening half but conceded the other key statistics before heading for a reprimand from Ackland.
A soft try to Herman Ese'ese five minutes indicated the coach's message hadn't registered immediately though the Warriors did regroup with a three-try burst -- including a double to rampant prop James Taylor - to again level up a thrilling encounter.
The Bulldogs regained the lead through Dujuan Liolevave to initiate another scoring spree - by the Warriors.
A converted runaway try by halfback Mason Lino provided the decisive momentum shift while a late tackle on Lolohea set the platform for prop Albert Vete to barrel over before Ngataua Hukatai posted the Warriors second successive half century and Lino slotted a penalty to record nine goal from 10 in consecutive games.
NZ Warriors 54 (James Taylor 2, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Siliva Havili, Metia Lisati, Tuimoala Lolohea, Mason Lino, Albert Vete, Ngataua Hukatai tries; Mason Lino 9 goals) Canterbury Bulldogs 38 (Jaelen Feeney 2, Lloyd Perrett, John Sila, Shaun Lane, Herman Ese'ese, Dujuan Liolevave tries; Patrick Templeman 5 goals). HT: 16-28
- © Fairfax NZ News
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