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'So much belief': Warriors' recipe for epic upset victory over Dolphins

Michael Burgess,
Publish Date
Mon, 27 May 2024, 1:36pm

'So much belief': Warriors' recipe for epic upset victory over Dolphins

Michael Burgess,
Publish Date
Mon, 27 May 2024, 1:36pm

When Warriors coach Andrew Webster walked into the changing room ahead of Sunday’s clash with the Dolphins, he had a good feeling.

The team had suffered significant game day disruption – with two key players ruled out and several positional changes – off the back of a dramatic week, with more injury withdrawals and prop Addin Fonua-Blake stood down for a breach of team standards.

It meant that 10 regular first graders were unavailable for the match, which now seemed a daunting assignment against the fourth placed Dolphins. But the patched up team confounded the odds with an epic 24-20 win on Sunday, coming back from a 16-6 deficit after 30 minutes.

“They were so together, so tight, so much belief,” said Webster. “If you had seen our dressing room before the game you probably would have understood that was no fluke [on Sunday night], they were really confident in each other. It wasn’t a straightforward [buildup] but no one panicked, no one seemed to be worried, everyone seemed to get more excited, if anything.”

Webster spent most of Sunday morning on the phone, rejigging his team as news drifted in. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad – who had been moved to centre to cover for Rocco Berry, who was scratched on Friday - was ruled out through illness, which prompted a call to Moala Graham-Taufa, to tell the 22-year-old centre he would be making his club debut.

Webster was then in touch with Taine Tuaupiki, who informed that his wife’s labour was ongoing and he wouldn’t be able to start. That prompted telephone conversations with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak – asking him to switch to fullback – as well as a callup for Ed Kosi on the wing.

“It wasn’t normal,” agreed Webster. “My parents were over [from Australia] and we were hanging out at home and I was just making call after call, trying to make sure everything was covered. It was just a different preparation.”

Chanel Harris-Tavita scores a try against the Dolphins. Photo / Photosport
Chanel Harris-Tavita scores a try against the Dolphins. Photo / Photosport

Regardless of the alterations, captain Mitch Barnett felt a general sense of calm within the group, after a strong week of preparation.

“We narrowed our focus this week, on training and lifting our standards around there and you see the results.”

That showed on the field. The Warriors looked up for the contest from the start, though they were edgy, conceding three tries in the first 25 minutes, with the Dolphins going close to a couple more. But once they settled into their work they were impressive, dominating the last 50 minutes of the match.

They had energy and hunger on defence and the right mix of control and adventure with the ball, with the combination between Chanel Harris-Tavita, Te Maire Martin and Dylan Walker particularly impressive. The Warriors began to turn the tide late in the first half – with Martin’s solo try a catalyst – and built on that dominance in the second half.

“We had to defend for long periods, went after them at the right times, believed in our attack,” said Webster. “We were calm and we looked really well connected. A lot of individuals played their best games but they also did it together; if you can do that, you are hard to beat.”

Webster agreed that Martin was outstanding – “he looks awesome in that role” – while Harris-Tavita was a great foil beside him. Marata Niukore made an impressive return from injury – capped by the decisive fourth try and Barnett continued his stellar form, with 174 metres from 21 runs and 25 tackles.

To put the icing on a special night, he was rewarded with State of Origin selection after the match.

“All I know is I am on a plane [on Monday] and in the squad,” said Barnett. “It’s exciting but that is the reward for my teammates, helping me get there and holding me accountable each day. It’s a nice moment for myself and my family. It’s something that has been on the bucket list for a while.”

The result breathes new life into the Warriors season, adjusting their record to 5-1-6 and comes at the perfect time, ahead of next week’s bye, with some injured players expected to return for the round 14 match against the Cowboys in Townsville.

They will still need a significant run of results in the second half of the season but are in a much better place to achieve that.

“Of course I [feel better],” said Webster. “I enjoy more the way we are going about it and the wins have come off the back of it.”

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