Warriors hold off desperate Raiders for win
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Warriors hold off desperate Raiders for win

Warriors forward Simon Mannering finished his 300th NRL game on the sideline.

Warriors forward Simon Mannering finished his 300th NRL game on the sideline.Credit:AAP

Despite three strong performances to finish the season, Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is still disappointed with the year and says it was too little too late.

Like their season, the Raiders fought till the end, but came up short to lose to the New Zealand Warriors 20-16 in Auckland on Friday.

Warriors stalwart Simon Mannering (sternum) finished his 300th NRL game on the bench, but coach Stephen Kearney thought he'd be alright for the first week of the finals.

The Warriors could finish as high as sixth, with the Raiders ending the season in 10th - the fourth time they've missed the finals in Stuart's five seasons in charge.

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The Raiders will take some hope into 2019 after beating top-four teams Sydney Roosters and South Sydney before the narrow loss to the Warriors.

Stuart said they'd managed to fix areas of their game in the final three rounds, but it didn't change the way he felt about the season as a whole.

"I'm still disappointed in the year. Those last three games we've executed and fixed areas of our game, but it's all been too late," he said.

"All year we've been in 90-95 per cent of the games, but we've probably let ourselves down by choices and execution that we've got right over the last three or so weeks.

"I'm still very, very disappointed in not making the play-offs."

While the Warriors had everything to play for - a home final on top of Mannering's milestone game - it was the Raiders who hit the scoreboard first off the back of a Sam Williams 40-20 kick.

David Fusitu'a of the Warriors scores a try.

David Fusitu'a of the Warriors scores a try.Credit:AAP

Raiders lock Josh Papalii barged over from close range to further press his claims for a Kangaroos call-up at the end of the season.

But he gave away a penalty for a sloppy play-the-ball that led to Warriors centre Solomone Kata running through to get the home team off the mark.

They were almost immediately over again thanks to a fantastic Peta Hiku offload that put his winger David Fusitu'a over for his 22nd try of the season to extend his lead at the top of the NRL try-scoring table.

Despite the Warriors enjoying periods of dominance, the Raiders managed to hang in and go in at 8-all at half-time.

Mannering's night ended just after the restart, it was also when the Warriors regained the lead thanks to a strong Hiku try.

"[Mannering's] pretty sore ... he got a whack in the sternum, which hurts. We'll wheel him out whenever we play next week and keep him out of contact work," Kearney said.

A desperate Jordan Rapana got the Raiders back into the game, knocking back a Josh Hodgson grubber - that looked certain to go dead in-goal - for Elliott Whitehead to score.

The Raiders had their chances late in the game, but weren't able to land the killer blow.

They almost scored a try from a brilliant Rapana banana kick back infield, but Blake Austin was unlucky to knock on as he crossed.

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Stuart felt they were going to run over the top of the Warriors in the final minutes.

"I thought we'd win, we just needed to get a bit more ball down their end of the footy field, we didn't have a lot down there all night," he said.

"I honestly thought we'd win the game. I thought we were in good shape at half-time, but it just didn't go our way."

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 20 (Solomone Kata, David Fusitu'a, Peta Hiku tries; Shaun Johnson 4 goals) bt CANBERRA RAIDERS 16 (Josh Papalii, Elliott Whitehead tries; Sam Williams 4 goals) at Auckland. Referees: Matt Cecchin, Phil Henderson. Crowd: 24,595.

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.