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NZ Warriors claim Harold Matthews Cup

The NZ Warriors have become the first team in the history of the Harold Matthews Cup to claim the premiership in their maiden year after defeating the Western Suburbs Magpies 34-16 at CommBank Stadium on Saturday.

It continued a fairy tale run for the Warriors, who had to win their final game of the regular season to snatch sixth spot in the finals, followed by sudden-death wins over Parramatta Eels and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs to make the decider.

Warriors lock Lennox Tuiloma scored two tries in the decider, including a strong effort in the second half where he dragged defenders over the line with him before breaking free to score

He was named Player of the Match, while the Magpies received some consolation after centre Haemasi Makasini was awarded Player of the Series.

Warriors coach Thaine Ashford said the historic result was just the beginning for pathways programmes in New Zealand, with the Auckland-based club joining the Harold Matthews Cup for the first time in 2024.

“It is probably bigger than us,” Ashford said. “Obviously it is special to us, but (also) for the game in New Zealand having the opportunity to showcase that you can stay home and build something from where we are.

“I’m very grateful to be a part of something special and to be a part of history.”

NZ Warriors Harold Matthews Cup rugby league
The NZ Warriors marched to the Harold Matthews Cup title from the sixth seed. PHOTO: NSWRL

The Magpies started strong with back-to-back tries to back-rower Teancam Epati and five-eighth Jhevon Lele in the opening six minutes to take their lead out to 10-0.

The Warriors hit back in the 11th minute through halfback Jack Thompson who broke through the defensive line to race down the field to score (10-6).

Trailing by four points, the Warriors pushed the Magpies in defence – forcing an error in their half.

The Warriors pounced on the mistake and found themselves in front after Thompson passed short to back-rower Militonimolela Sikuvea who crashed over the line (12-10).

With momentum behind them, the Warriors scored another two tries along with a penalty goal to extend their lead out to 24-10 at half-time.

The second half started with both teams testing one another in both attack and defence with set-for-set football being played for the opening 12 minutes.

The Warriors were the first to score in the second half, after Magpies fullback Ali Hickam Karnib spilled a Thompson grubber. Wing Ezekiel Davidson-Faaiuaso regathered the ball and charged to the line – carrying a defender on his back before passing the ball to utility Boston Krone to score (28-10).

The Magpies won the ball back from the kick-off before hooker Ashton Large found space for prop Christina Taupau-Moors to crash over the line and reduce the deficit to 12 points with 10 minutes remaining (28-16).

The Warriors sealed the deal in the final five minutes when lock Tuiloma powered his way through the goal-line defence for his second try.

“Every single one of these boys has played their part to get us here today, not just the boys that took the field today,” Ashford said.

“The boys turned up for each other and they believed in each other and that’s what it can do for you sometimes. I’m very happy and very grateful for the win.”


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