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Warriors into Harold Matthews Cup decider

NZ Warriors Harold Matthews Cup rugby league
The giant-killing NZ Warriors have advanced to the Harold Matthews Cup grand final. PHOTO: NSWRLTV

The NZ Warriors' Harold Matthews Cup side have produced their second major upset to reach the competition's grand final.

After stunning Parramatta last week, the Warriors under-17s shocked minor premiers Canterbury Bankstown to reach the decider, the first time the club has had a team in a grand final since 2014.

The TJ Ashford-coached Warriors held on for a gritty 12-10 victory over the Bulldogs at Sydney's Henson Park on Saturday to add yet another chapter to their fairytale debut campaign in the renowned pathways competition.

It began with what could have been a deflating 36-10 loss to the Eels in February but that result instead provided the launching pad for what has turned out to be an exceptional season so far. And the biggest game of all is yet to come.

It is the first time a Warriors side has been in a grand final since the Stacey Jones-coached side defeated the Brisbane Broncos in the NYC (under-20) showdown in 2014.

When the Warriors’ 2024 Harold Matthews side was trounced 40-10 by Cronulla Sutherland in the penultimate round of the regular season, chances of reaching the finals hung in the balance but the team snared the sixth and final spot a week later with a resounding 46-10 win over St George and has not looked back.

Last Sunday the Warriors avenged their opening round loss to the Eels by racing to a 24-0 lead and then closing out the game 30-20 to eliminate the third-ranked side.

The Bulldogs had been dominant all season, with seven wins and a draw, averaging more than 37 points a game. The fewest points they had been restricted to in any match was 20.

As one of the two top qualifiers, they had the last two weeks off, giving the Warriors a potential edge in match fitness.

With the match played in wild, wet and windy conditions, the Warriors again made a fast start, as they had against Parramatta, with wing Kairus Booth, a schoolboy rugby union player from Balclutha, scoring in just the seventh minute.

Then five minutes later, powerful loose forward Lennox Tuiloma added to his try-scoring tally with Booth converting for a 10-0 lead.

Canterbury Bankstown responded in the 19th minute with an unconverted try to halfback Matthew Barakat, leaving the Warriors up six at thalftime.

That became 12-4 with a Booth penalty four minutes into the second spell, two points that would prove vital in the final analysis.

Heading into the closing stages, the Warriors still had an eight-point lead until the Bulldogs scored and converted with two minutes to play.

Defending heroically throughout, they shut out their opponents in the final minutes to earn a grand final date with the Western Suburbs Magpies, who finished second in the regular season and held out Cronulla Sutherland 8-6 in the other preliminary final.

The Warriors returned home before heading back to Sydney later in the week, ahead of Saturday's decider, part of the New South Wales Rugby League’s super grand final day for all junior grades, including the under-19 SG Ball Cup.


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