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True Warriors: Finals dream alive as Brown's men defy the odds

Even the most ardent Warriors fans would surely have conceded their season was done when the club's spiritual leader Roger Tuivasa-Sheck announced he was going home to New Zealand two days after they had slumped to a sixth defeat in a row in round 19.

The loss of RTS on the back of a 60-22 hammering at the hands of the Rabbitohs would surely drain the last ounce of resistance from a playing group that had spent many months away from home and had only pride to play for in the final six rounds.

In the wake of the New Zealand government's decision to pause its Trans-Tasman travel bubble for eight weeks, the Warriors granted Tuivasa-Sheck an early release so he would be able to arrive in New Zealand without quarantining.

"We're hugely sympathetic to Roger's position," said Warriors CEO Cameron George on July 26.

"Roger is going to rugby union with our blessing but if we require him to see out the rest of his contract he won't be able to return home until at least the end of September and maybe a lot later.

Farah: Finals berth would be one of Warriors' greatest achievements

"It would seriously impact on his ability to make his start in union and we wouldn't want to see that happen."

Given the esteem with which RTS is held at the Warriors, they were never going to stand in his way, but with veteran forward Leeson Ah Mau also being granted an early release and Tohu Harris out with a serious knee injury it meant 600 games of NRL experience were missing when they lined up against Wests Tigers in round 20.

Match Highlights: Wests Tigers v Warriors

Another of the club's elder statesmen, Peta Hiku, was handed the captaincy reins and celebrated his ascension to the top job by dragging his team back from 10-0 down at half-time to win 18-16, halting the losing streak and serving notice that the Warriors weren't about to roll over and play dead.

The victory lifted Nathan Brown's men from 14th to 12th on the ladder as they headed into a round 21 showdown with the Sharks, who had beaten them 20-12 just four weeks earlier even with RTS, Addin Fonua-Blake, Matt Lodge and Reece Walsh on board.

What unfolded at Cbus Super Stadium on a tense and testy afternoon gave yet another insight into the resilience Brown, George and their team have instilled in a playing group which refuses to use any of the myriad of excuses at their disposal after the disruptions of the past 18 months.

The Sharks went into the game in eighth spot and in control of their own finals destiny while the main weapon in the Warriors' arsenal would again be pride in the jersey and pride in personal performance.

And while Kane Evans may have let his emotions and Will Chambers' baiting get the better of him, the Warriors overcame his absence for 20 of the 80 minutes to again fight back from the brink and snatch a two-point win.

Match Highlights: Warriors v Sharks

"I think Kano might have lost his head a little bit there and I am sure if he had the chance again he might like to do things a little bit differently," halfback Sean O'Sullivan said a few days later when the dust-up had settled.

"He wears his heart on his sleeve and that's a decision that he made at the time, in the heat of the moment.

"He was obviously apologetic, and he was stoked that we got a win so that was really the main thing after the game. We don't want to be down to 12 players, but it is not just on Kane. As a group we came together and we got the two points, which was the main thing."

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A frustrated Brown told media after the match that he was disappointed some of his senior players had engaged with renowned niggler Chambers, and O'Sullivan revealed he had let the team know in no uncertain terms that it wasn't acceptable behaviour.

"Brownie at half-time gave us a little spray just to let us know not to get involved in it because people were losing their heads," O'Sullivan said. "The ultimate goal for us was to win a football game, it wasn't to win a sledging match between each other."

Had Brown been prepared to let standards slip and not hold his men to account there's no way they could have fought back from 16-6 down at half-time and fought back the urge to sit Chambers on his backside once and for all.

A week later the Warriors made it a trifecta of morale-boosting wins when they took down the Bulldogs to move to 18 competition points and remarkably still within touching distance of the top eight.

Should they knock off the Broncos on Sunday and other results go as expected they will be very much alive heading into their final two games against Canberra and the Titans.

Gold Coast's loss to Melbourne on Thursday night has kept the door open for the Warriors and the other four teams trying to knock out the Titans and Knights for the last two spots in the top eight.

You don't always get what you deserve in this game but given the resilience they've shown during the past two seasons it would be fitting reward for the Warriors should they squeak into the finals for just the second time in a decade.

And even if they come up just short, Brown can walk away from his debut season safe in the knowledge that the group of men he leads are warriors in every sense of the word.

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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