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They stunned Parramatta last week and now the One New Zealand Warriors’ Harold Matthews Cup side has shocked minor premier Canterbury Bankstown to reach the under-17 competition’s grand final, the first time the club has had a team in a premiership decider since 2014.

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

It began with what could have been a deflating 10-36 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’s the first time a One New Zealand Warriors side has been in a grand final since the Stacey Jones-coached side beat the 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 second to last 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 hasn’t looked back since.

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.

That lined them up against the minor premiership-winning Bulldogs in today’s preliminary final at one of Sydney’s most famous old venues Henson Park.

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’d had the last two weeks off giving the One New Zealand Warriors a potential edge in match fitness.

With the match played in wild, wet and windy conditions, the Warriors agai9n made a fast start as they had against Parramatta with winger 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 to leave the Warriors holding a 10-4 advantage at halftime.

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 to prevail 12-10 to earn a grand final date with the Western Suburbs Magpies, who finished second in the minor premiership and held out Cronulla Sutherland 8-6 in today’s other preliminary final.

The Warriors now return home before heading back to Sydney for the season decider next Saturday (April 27), part of the New South Wales Rugby League’s super grand final day for all junior grades including the SG Ball Cup (under-19).

Acknowledgement of Country

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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