Sunday 17 December 2017 / 03:17 PM

SUNDAY WRAP: WARRIORS END DROUGHT; REAL DEAL EELS

WARRIORS 26 d. NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 22 @ Mt Smart Stadium

It was typically nerve-jangling, but after seven straight Round 1 defeats, a win’s a win as far as the enigmatic Warriors are concerned.

The match: Warriors fans went on a familiar roller-coaster, while Knights supporters will have been buoyed by their unfancied dual wooden-spooners’ wholehearted effort. The visitors started far stronger, building an 8-0 lead before the sluggish Warriors got their act together.

And get their act together they did, running in four tries in the last 14 minutes of the opening half as Shaun Johnson and the Warriors’ outside backs found their brilliant best. David Fusitu’a bagged a hat-trick as the hosts kicked out to a 20-8 advantage at the break.

But after a promising start to the second half, the Warriors lost Simon Mannering and Issac Luke – and inexplicably dropped their bundle. The Knights scored three unanswered, soft tries to snatch a 22-20 lead in the 66th minute.

But just as another demoralising defeat loomed for the Auckland club, Ryan Hoffman reached out with seven minutes to go, and the Warriors skittishly clinched two of their more valuable competition points of recent seasons.

The Knights collected something of a moral victory after going into the match as easily the biggest outsiders of Round 1, and on the strength of that performance they will win many more games than their 2016 tally of one.

The man: Every Warriors player has got plenty of improvement left in them – and Mannering was a cert for man-of-the-match honours before his unscheduled exit nine minutes into the second half – but Roger Tuivasa-Sheck stood up in his initial first-grade game as captain. He made a game-high 20 runs and 243 metres, including the vital line-break from a kick-return that eventually led to the match-winner.

The moment: Hoffman made a dreadful error inside the Warriors’ half to pile pressure on his side, but minutes later the deposed skipper was the hero, running off young five-eighth Ata Hingano and showing outstanding strength and composure to muscle his way over for the try that saved the Warriors’ bacon.

PARRAMATTA EELS 20 d. MANLY SEA EAGLES 12 @ Lottoland

Parramatta picked up where they left off in 2016, but clearly relished the opportunity to start with a clean slate as they subdued Manly by eight points in a tough Sunday afternoon showdown.

The match: The Sea Eagles were out of the blocks quickly through debutant centre Brian Kelly, who crossed in the seventh minute. But Corey Norman responded swiftly for the Eels with a four-pointer, before producing an incredible 40/20 in the lead-up to Bevan French’s 26th-minute try.

Leading 14-6 at the break, the blue-and-golds continued to dominate possession and territory, and a 49th-minute try to Clint Gutherson proved decisive in a grinding second stanza.

Another penalty goal from Gutherson gave the visitors more breathing space, and Manly recruit Blake Green’s try with three minutes to go was pure consolation.

The man: In his first NRL game since being banned for off-field indiscretions last year, Corey Norman was an absolute whiz for the victorious Eels. The halfback – rated by many as the Dally M favourite – scored a kick-and-chase try, came up with the most miraculous 40/20 you could hope to see in the lead-up to the second, and steered his side around the park brilliantly.

The moment: Manu Ma’u’s offload to send French over was special, illustrating the all-round skill and dynamic impact the Eels have throughout their team sheet. Controversial winger Semi Radradra’s chase-down of rookie Kelly was an outstanding sign for the Parramatta, too.

[YouTube – Sports Tube]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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