NRL: NZ Warriors slump to narrow pre-season defeat against Wests Tigers at Christchurch

A depleted and shorthanded NZ Warriors outfit have suffered an 18-16 pre-season defeat to Wests Tigers at a packed-out Apollo Projects Stadium, Christchurch.

Coach Andrew Webster left most of his frontline players out of his team's first hitout of the new season, but they suffered another setback after 20 minutes, when interchange forward Zyon Maiu'u was red-carded for a clumsy shoulder tackle on Tigers centre Declan Casey. 

As Webster cleared his bench, the Warriors made a late bid to snatch victory and both teams finished three tries apiece, with a missed sideline conversion the difference. 

Setu Tu celebrates his try against Wests Tigers.
Setu Tu celebrates his try against Wests Tigers. Photo credit: Photosport

NZ Kiwis legend Benji Marshall, now into his first season as fulltime Tigers coach, started many of his stars in a bid to gather quick momentum for last season's woodenspooners.

Wests came close to opening their account, when a clever kick from Aidan Sezer evaded Warriors fullback Taine Tuaupiki, but his collision with counterpart Jahream Bula gave him a chance to fall on the ball first.

Seconds later, Tigers hooker Api Koroisau provided a short pass for lock Alex Seyfarth to plunge across for the first try.

An error near their own goal-line put Wests on the backfoot and half Luke Metcalf dropped a pass for second-rower Jacob Laban to storm over for the Warriors. 

Sezer captialised on some ineffective tackling down the Warriors right edge to put the visitors back in front, but they lost centre Casey to a brutal hit to the head from Maiu'u.

While Casey was stretchered off the park, Maiu'u was shown the sideline, leaving Warriors shorthanded for the remaining 60 minutes. The game immediately became an exercise in survival for the hosts.

In his Warriors return from rugby union, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck showed he would be difficult to contain in his new centre position, twice showing his speed and handling to put teammates close to scoring. On the second, captain-for-the-day Marcelo Montoya was held up over the line.

The former Daly M Medal winner showed his defensive ability with a crunching tackle on Sione Fainu, who had intercepted a pass on his own goal-line and threatened to run the length of the field. 

The Warriors survived that threat and moments later, Tuivasa-Sheck snuffed out another dangerous attack with a tackle on Bula, as the Tigers arrived at halftime still just 12-6 ahead, despite their numerical advantage.

That imbalance was temporarily nullified after the restart, when Samuela Fainu was sent to the sin bin for a swinging arm in a tackle, but the Warriors were unable to regain any scoreboard parity.

They engineered a prime opportunity, when Metcalf kicked to the corner and Tigers defender Heath Mason was bundled into touch. Hooker Freddy Lussick darted over the tryline, but the Warriors were pinged for obstruction.

Bunty Afoa in action against Wests Tigers.
Bunty Afoa in action against Wests Tigers. Photo credit: Photosport

Tuivasa-Sheck and Montoya were pulled from the field, and within seconds, Sione Latu-Vaihu stretched the Wests lead, as the new leftside defence was found wanting.  

Paul Roache showed his strength, running from dummy half and bumping off a tackler to score from close range for the Warriors.

With most of their first-graders now on the bench - barnstorming Bunty Afoa was the glaring exception - the Warriors looked to their reserve and junior players to snatch victory. Geronimo Doyle put a pinpoint kick for starting winger Setu Tu to score in the corner.

Ben Farr could not slot the sideline conversion to draw level and Moala Graham-Taufa came within centimetres of an intercept inside the Tigers 20, as the Warriors fell short of a comeback win.

Most of those missing stars will likely return for the Warriors' final pre-season outing against the Dolphins at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart next Saturday.

Wests Tigers 18 (Seyfarth, Sezer & Latu-Vaihu tres; Koroisau 2 & Lobb conversions) NZ Warriors 16 (Laban, Roache & Tu tries; Metcalf & Farr conversions)