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An undermanned One New Zealand Warriors side came close to another upset victory before losing 16-22 to the highly-ranked North Sydney Bears in Sunday’s 12th-round New South Wales Cup encounter at North Sydney Oval.

The Warriors were coming off a stunning 22-10 win over then-competition leader Penrith in round 11 when they prevailed despite fielding a radically reshuffled and inexperienced side.

They faced still more hardship in their preparation for their third away game in four weeks due to the impact of so many of the club’s NRL players being unavailable.

With Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Taine Tuaupiki ruled out on game day, established New South Wales Cup outside backs Edward Kosi and Moala Graham-Taufa were called up for the first-grade side taking on the Dolphins.

They were both named in the New South Wales Cup side on Tuesday as was rookie NRL prop Zyon Maiu’u but all three of them remained in Auckland.

With SG Ball Cup back rower Kayliss Fatialofa already named in the centres, coach David Tangata-Toa called in Quinnlan Tupou to replace Graham-Taufa with NSW Cup rookie Compton Fuatimau, initially selected as 18th man, coming onto the wing.

Toni Tupouniua replaced Maiu’u in the front row and Jersey Flegg captain Harry Durbin was added to the bench.

The disruptions mattered not as the Warriors made the hottest of starts with second rower Maia Sands scoring in the third minute and fullback Ben Farr in the 10th minute to give their side a 10-0 lead.

The Bears levelled up at 10-10 at halftime but five minutes into the second half back rower Leka Halasima had the Warriors’ third try to help open up a 16-10 edge.

They couldn’t hold onto it as the Bears evened it up and then went 22-16 ahead with two tries in the space of three minutes.

There was still ample time left as the Warriors set about biting back.

Inside the last two minutes the Warriors hit their right edge to put Fuatimau over only for the try to be ruled out for an obstruction call while Tanner Stowers-Smith was held up over the line.

It left the Warriors forced to settle for a six-point loss ending their five match unbeaten run.

The match marked a successful comeback from knee surgery for exciting second rower Demitric Sifakula. In his first outing since last August he had 33 minutes off the bench, making an impressive 106 metres from nine runs, 46 post contact metres, a tackle break and 11 tackles without a miss.

Teenaged back rower Leka Halasima was outstanding in just his second appearance followi9ng a four-game lay-off. Used for 50 minutes off the interchange, he scored a try and made a team-high 172 metres from 15 runs, two line breaks, four tackle breaks and 17 tackles.

They’re still seventh on the table and travel to Sydney for their third consecutive away game on Sunday to take on the 12th-placed Sydney Roosters.

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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