NRL: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck stars at fullback, as NZ Warriors hold off fast-finishing Newcastle Knights at Mt Smart

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has given a glimpse of the skills that made him to the NRL's best fullback in a previous life, sparking NZ Warriors to a 20-12 victory over Newcastle Knights at Go Media Stadium.

Reluctantly forced into the No.1 jersey, with injuries to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Taine Tuaupiki, the former Dally M Medal winner showed he had lost none of the ability that propelled him to that honour.

Every time he touched the ball, he created uncertainty for the Knights defence, carrying 29 times for 275 metres and getting the better of his positional duel with counterpart Kalyn Ponga.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in action against Newcastle.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in action against Newcastle. Photo credit: Newshub

As he tries to perfect his switch to centre, Tuivasa-Sheck passed his first test at the back, successfully defusing a high kick at the end of a Newcastle set. Moments later, the Warriors had their first attacking opportunity, when second-rower Kurt Capewell stripped the ball in midfield.

At the end of the set, halfback Shaun Johnson chipped a kick towards the corner and centre Rocco Berry emerged from the contest to plunge over, but replays showed a knockon.

The Warriors lost five-eighth Luke Metcalf, when he was cut in half by a tackle from second-rower Tyson Frizell, replaced by Chanel Harris-Tavita. Newcastle roared onto attack from a break by Ponga, but the Warriors defence held. 

Their attack finally bore fruit, when a new set of six tackles put them on the frontfoot and second-rower Jackson Ford spun through Ponga's despairing tackle and forced the ball. With Metcalf out of the equation, Johnson reclaimed his goalkicking duties to convert.

From the kickoff, hooker Wayden Egan dashed from dummy half, drawing the defence and putting Harris-Tavita way for the second try.

The Knights threatened to respond, when winger Enari Tuala galloped clear down the left touchline, but the move was closed down on the final tackle. Ponga broke again from deep inside his own half, but it also came to nothing.

Tuivasa-Sheck sparked an attack with a sidestepping run, followed by hard charges from wingers Marcelo Montoya and Dallin Watene-Zeleniak, but a pass from Johnson to Berry was adjudged forward. Instead, the Knights countered, with Frizell gathering a kick and spinning over for the try. 

A dropped ball by Tuivasa-Sheck put his team under pressure again and Montoya barely batted a kick from Ponga dead, before Frizell arrived on the scene.

Warriors led 12-6 at the break and struck soon after the restart, when Montoya leapt high to claim a high kick from Harris-Tavita near the tryline and score. 

Capewell accepted a short pass from Johnson and spun through a couple of defenders, as he headed for the posts, but lost the ball in the tackle.

A trend began to develop - the Warriors would finish their sets on the goal-line, they would limit the Knights' territory gain and start from great field position for their next raid.  

Newcastle spent 70 percent of the third quarter in their own half, but the home side weren't able to take full toll of their territory advantage.

The Knights began to turn the tables and had an opportunity, when Montoya couldn't handle a high kick, but halfback Jack Cogger squandered the initial chance with a knockon.

Prop Mitch Barnett let them off the hook with a mistake at the play-the-ball, but Ford was up quickly to intercept a pass metres from his goal-line.

When Capewell couldn't take a pass from Johnson near the tryline, the Knights defence was penalised for offside and Johnson slotted the goal to made it a three-score contest with eight minutes to play. 

Chanel Harris-Tavita scores a try for the Warriors.
Chanel Harris-Tavita scores a try for the Warriors. Photo credit: Photosport

The Knights got one of those scores, when Ponga weighted a kick behind the goal-line defence and centre Bradman Best gathered for the try.

Memories of the Melbourne disaster - when they surrendered an eight-point lead in the final three minutes against the Storm - came flooding back.

Newcastle had another chance, when Tuala broke from his own half, but Tuivasa-Sheck stuck out a hand to knock down Ponga's pass, with the line open. The Warriors fullback was on hand again to defuse a dangerous bouncing grubber kick on the last tackle.

Somehow, the home side held on for their second win of the season. 

"There were obviously still lapses, moments when we made it too easy on the opposition, but they came with a bit intensity, especially in that first half," said Warriors captain Tohu Harris. "It was a tough one out there, but happy to come away with two points.

"Our outside backs have been outstanding for the last year-and-a-bit, and adding Roger to that only helps. He's a machine and hopefully we get Charnze back next week, which is another level up.,

"It's exciting for us to have outside backs that can do damage like that." 

The Warriors have a chance to build on their momentum, when they visit struggling South Sydney Rabbitohs next Saturday.

NZ Warriors 20 (Ford, Harris-Tavita & Montoya tries; Johnson 3 conversions & penalty) Newcastle Knights 12 (Frizell & Best tries; Ponga 2 conversions)

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