The (almost) greatest comeback ever
Many Warriors fans of a certain vintage will remember this match as the one that got away.
Wellington’s Westpac Stadium hosted the Canterbury Bulldogs in Round 8 of 2001. The Warriors had started the season in patchy style with three wins and four losses. It was a rollercoaster start. How apt when reliving this game.
Canterbury settled into a fast-paced style of attacking football right from kick-off. Fullback Luke Patten was at his superb best, running in two tries, including a long-range effort just after half-time. A 14-2 lead became 20-2 quickly. Justin Murphy then scored in the corner for the home side, but the Bulldogs hit back with another of their own.
The scoreboard presented a bleak picture: Warriors 8, Bulldogs 24.
Eighteen minutes to go quickly fast-forwarded to just five minutes without any change to the score. Here’s where the magic started.
Nathan Wood (who had played over 100 first-grade games for Balmain and Sydney City, but I still couldn’t remember him at all) was at five-eighth that day in his first, and only season, at the Warriors. He put in a well-weighted chip kick about thirty metres out from Canterbury’s line, and from there, incredibly, Wood regathered it and slung out a pass to a willing Henry Fa’afilli, who ducked in to score in the corner.
The team lists from the Warriors v Bulldogs, Round 8, 2001. Photo: afltables.com
TV commentator Jason Costigan, who we all remember as ‘Costo’, enjoyed the try but had resigned the Warriors to a loss: “It’s a case of too little, too late.”
Three tackles after the restart, Stacey Jones shaped to kick but noticed four opposition defenders quickly rush up to stop him. He looked to his left and put through a low, bouncing kick aimed at a sprinting Francis Meli. The winger collected it and outpaced a turning Patten to score a great try.
This time, Costo started to get a little excited. He enjoyed the Warriors’ brand of exciting football.
“Oh yeah! Francis Meli!” His vocal chords were stirring slightly, but he remained guarded in his praise: “Perhaps all is not lost.”
Now there were only three minutes to go. Braith Anasta’s kick restart hit the upright. A surging Logan Swann clattered into the Bulldogs’ first line of defence, rendering Corey Hughes dazed, as the smaller man reeled back into the turf from the impact.
Prop Justin Morgan – a present-day member of the Warriors’ coaching staff – ran through a gaping hole at full pace, catching everyone by surprise. Majestically, he managed a two-handed pass to a flying Clinton Toopi who had 50 to run. At this point, Costo lost his voice: “Toopi! Tooooppi! They won’t stop him! The Warriors! Have they pinched a victory? A famous win, unbelievable scenes!
I remember losing my voice too. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. After being down 20-2, then 24-8 with only a few minutes left, all hope was lost. The comeback of the year! The comeback of the decade! What an amazing win!
Jones lined up the kick from a slight angle, about 22 metres out. He’d kicked four from four that day. The crowd got ready to celebrate. Jones came in, turned off his mark and stabbed the kick.
He missed it. He hit it well but it shaved the left upright. The match ended 24-24.
But that’s the Warriors. Exciting, frustrating and incredible all in equal parts. I’ll leave it to Costo to take us out.
“Oh no! Stacey Jones!”
Andrew has loved rugby league all his life. He has written on sport for a number of years, for magazines such as Rugby League Week, NZ Rugby World, Rugby League Review and NZ League Magazine. He has just written his first book, which will be published in 2017.
This article first appeared on http://www.kiwileaguecentral.com