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Back to the future: Roger returns to fullback and wins it for the Wahs with trademark magic moment

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22nd March, 2024
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He’s back.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck hadn’t been enjoying the best of nights, and neither had the rest of the Warriors, but sometimes a little adversity goes a long way.

Taine Tuaupiki, the fullback, had been forced off with a concussion when the Raiders took the lead, overcoming a huge glut of possession the other way with characteristic grit to lead going into the final quarter.

Yet, with RTS deputising at fullback, the Warriors suddenly hit form. The first, from Luke Metcalf, was important but the second, in which Roger didn’t so much dodge as batter his way over the stripe, was the one that the packed out Christchurch crowd loved.

It moved the score to 18-10, a lead that the Warriors would never relinquish.

They had started, like they did in Round 1 against the Sharks, like a house on fire. Addin Fonua-Blake opened the scoring but the Wahs were unable to add to his try amid dogged Raiders defence.

Before the break, Matt Timoko nabbed one back and after it, Nick Cotric stuck Canberra into the lead. It was well deserved.

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Yet, staring down a 0-3 start, the Warriors finally found the attack that they had been lacking. Andrew Webster sighed in relief. So did Roger.

“We’ve had two weeks where we’ve sort of played pretty, as in it looked really good at times, and tonight probably didn’t look as good and we got the win,” said the coach.

“Sometimes you get a win ugly, and we still made it hard for ourselves, but I was just really, really rapped for the boys.

“They dug in at the end there, found a way to get it done and I think there’s going to be a huge amount of relief for the boys and we can move on from here, which is cool.”

Canberra did exactly what they have done in their two previous games – both wins – but this time, failed to get it over the line.

They will point to a no try in the first half, when Ethan Strange had one took off when it looked like he had grounded the ball, and several other micro moments that might have gone the other way.

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That they stayed in it in the opening stage showed that they have exactly the same intent as ever, and the Raiders even managed to put on some nice attack at times, which hasn’t always been their forte.

Ricky Stuart, coaching his 250th at the Milk tonight, won’t be worried for a second on a performance level. Keep this up and they’ll remain about the toughest nut to crack in the NRL.

“I didn’t expect anything different,” he said of the Warriors.

“To be honest, and respectful say, I knew we’d be up for a performance.

“I knew we’d be playing a good footy team. So that’s the way we prepared and that’s what we got.

The Warriors attack gets there – in the end

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It took Tuivasa-Sheck moving to the back for the Warriors to get going with the ball, and there might be a lesson there.

By the end, RTS was claiming high balls and scoring tries, but for a long time, he had been something of a passenger in the centres.

Timoko, the incumbent Kiwis centre, had given him a bath for the first Canberra try while going the other way, Roger was getting nowhere.

Webster has slated Tuivasa-Sheck in as a centre since his arrival but it hasn’t always worked so far.

That’s been complicated by the absence of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad from the back with an ongoing hamstring issue, but once Tuaupiki went down, the hand was forced.

Now, RTS will in all likelihood start next week, too. CNK is still out and not slated to return until Round 5, and with Adam Pompey a perfectly serviceable centre, Tuivasa-Sheck is the obvious option.

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It will be interesting to see how it goes, because this is an attack that has lacked a little spark.

The forwards are still great, but the cohesion in getting the ball to the edge and over the stripe is yet to completely come together with Tuivasa-Sheck in the centres.

Fonua-Blake has twice as many tries as any other middle in the last two years, partly because he is so devastating close to the line, but also because the Warriors have worked out exactly where and how to use him as an attacking weapon.

He hangs around the ball-players, has the pace to keep up and the smarts to pick the right line.

Unfortunately, the same can’t currently be said for the rest of the Warrior at the moment.

In both of their home games so far, they’ve started rapidly but failed to convert their domination into points before running out of steam later on.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the issue is: the movements are there, as are the same playmakers, as is the endeavour.

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It might be just a question of luck, which will change, or that they have faced three excellent defensive units in the Sharks, Storm and now Raiders. Had they faced others, the 0-3 might be the other way around.

As it stands, though, it’s the lack of points that are the problem – or at least, the lack of conversion of pressure into points.

This time around, they got away with it. The lessons, though, still need to be learned.

Canberra will be absolutely fine

The Raiders do not go away. They’re already firming as one of the best defensive teams in the comp and showed it here, with Xavier Savage and Strange pulling off last ditch trysavers before half time on the rare occasions where they structure broke down. All the little things about scramble and effort, they have in spades.

Canberra far from sparkling in attack and even, at times, seem to just burn plays in good ball to get to the point where they can kick it.

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But if you stay in enough contests and make the opposition fight for every inch, the score will be close enough for you to jag things your way.

When the possession shifted enough towards the end of the first half, they eventually struck back through Timoko, who did what Tuivasa-Sheck couldn’t, getting around his opposite number to score.

Had Strange’s effort stood, Canberra could have gone on with it. That slice of luck didn’t got their way.

They did eventually take the lead, but were undone by two moments of defensive frailty – not tracking Metcalf and a spilled bomb from Cotric – that were also, perhaps, on the unfortunate side.

When it came to chasing late, they were given plenty of chances but didn’t have the attack to trouble the Warriors. That’s still the worst part of Canberra’s game and the aspect that needs the most work.

On this evidence, however, they’re not going to get battered often, will be in every game and, you’d expect, will win enough of them to make the finals.

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Everyone who plays them knows they’ve been in a game. It’s rarely pretty, but it’s hard not to respect the bit.

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