By Jamie Anderson
The NZ Warriors well and truly kept their top four hopes alive with a 32-18 win over the Sea Eagles at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.
Despite some early resistance from the visitors, the home side were largely the better side throughout, in a match that signalled the arrival of young Abraham Papalii, who scored three tries and could have easily had four or five.
It was however the visitors who started the faster of the two, and in the eighth minute, it was late inclusion Zac Nicholls who sprinted some 55 metres to score after a Manly scrum had appeared to have broken down, only for the teenager to spot a gap and evade some desperate defence.
Manly were perhaps unlucky not to have extended their advantage in the ensuing sets when they dominated possession but were thwarted on several occasions by the competition’s best defence.
Having turned away the Sea Eagles advances, the home side scored the first of their six tries in the 17th minute when a slick shift to their left found Jarrod Tua who did amazingly well to pop a ball to Kata who went over in the corner. Despite the replay showing that Kata had in fact placed a foot into touch in grounding the ball, the Wariors now led 6-4 after Kata converted his own try.
In the 22nd minute, man of the match Abraham Papalii looked certain to grab his first however some four Manly players did enough to hold the big man up in goal. This only delayed the inevitable though with the Warriors going in for their second soon after thanks to Jarrod Tua who scored in almost the same spot as Kata before him.
Having been denied some ten minutes earlier, Papalii scored the first of three tries in the 31st minute when he was simply too much to handle close to the Sea Eagles line.
Now leading 16-4, the home side looked set to head to the sheds with a two converted try buffer, however in the shadows of the break, some fancy footwork and speed by Dom Reardon saw Manly close the gap to just eight points.
It was well and truly game on early in the second half when Manly looked set to concede the opening points but Delroy Berryman timed his intercept to perfection, took possession of the ball and sprinted some 80 metres to score Manly’s third try of the afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Sea Eagles though, they were unable to convert any of their first three tries and still trailed by four points despite both sides having scored three tries apiece.
With the game on the line in the final 20 minutes, it was time for Abraham Papalii to stamp himself on the fixture and he did so with tries in the 64th and 69th minutes, with the third of his three tries something special, showing strength and speed in a try that had to be seen to be believed.
Late tries to Sam Lousi for New Zealand and Delroy Berryman for Manly were merely for the fans with most still in awe of the Papalii show. Scoring three tries, being dragged down inches short on another occasion as well as being held up earlier on in the match.
The Warriors will travel back over to Australia this weekend to face Mounties on Saturday while Manly will have their hands full when the tackle the Panthers at Sportingbet, also on Saturday.
NZ Warriors 32 (A Papalii 3, S Kata, J Tua, Sam Lousi tries; C Tuimavave 2, S Cook, S Kata goals) def. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 18 (D Berryman 2, Z Nicholls, D Reardon tries; S Meaney goal) at Mt Smart Stadium.