Few of Stephen Kearney’s selection dilemmas would have been solved after the Warriors’ 20-14 win over the Melbourne Storm’s development side in a Rotorua trial that failed to reach any great heights.
But it was nevertheless a handy maiden hit-out for an under-strength Warriors line-up, who overcame a lacklustre start to overwhelm the Storm second-stringers. The Warriors’ attack was predictably clunky, but the overall defensive performance would have been a pleasing aspect for Kearney and his staff.
New recruits Peta Hiku, Leivaha Pulu and Matiu Love-Henry looked good in limited game-time, David Fusitu’a and James Gavet were solid, while there were none better than prop Chris Satae.
Teenagers Lewis Soosemea, Hayze Perham, Chanel Harris-Tavita and Joseph Vuna all had some nice touches after being injected in the second half. While no players were overly disappointing, Ken Maumalo and Sam Cook did their Round 1 ambitions few favours with some glaring errors.
A poor defensive miss from Ata Hingano allowed Storm halfback Billy Walters to slice through and set winger Matt Sopa-Lawler up for the first try after just four minutes. The Warriors’ sluggish opening was compounded by a match-ending injury to forward recruit Agnatius Paasi soon afterwards.
But a run of possession eventually paid off for the Warriors as Hingano put Solomone Kata over for the equaliser from close range in the 19th minute.
After several underwhelming sets inside the Melbourne 20, excellent quick hands from Hiku – who moved from centre to fullback at the quarter-time break – and Blake Ayshford saw Fusitu’a zip over for a neat try 11 minutes out from halftime.
The Warriors extended the advantage early in the second half, pushing out to 16-4 when Ligi Sao latched onto a Mason Lino grubber for their third try. But the home side’s discipline and intensity lapsed in the ensuing period and Storm hooker Harry Grant burrowed over from dummy-half at the hour mark.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s return to fullback for the final quarter opened up several opportunities down the right flank for flying teenage winger Soosemea, who raced over for a 71st-minute try in the corner.
Melbourne had the final say courtesy of a 90-metre try as winger Ryan Papenhuyzen streaked away down the left touchline.
The NRL’s crusade to clean up the ruck caught several players from both sides out, with seven penalties blown against players in possession for incorrect play-the-balls.
Warriors 20 (Solomone Kata, David Fusitu’a, Ligi Sao, Lewis Soosemea tries; Mason Lino 2 goals) d Melbourne Storm 10 at Rotorua International Stadium, Saturday 17 February. Halftime: Warriors 10-4.
Got through plenty of work and all of it was quality. A big, physical and mobile prop, the 25-year-old Satae – who made three NRL appearances off the bench late last season – sounded a warning to leading front-row contenders Sam Lisone and Albert Vete with a powerful display.
A host of classy touches at centre and fullback in a highly encouraging performance. Looked a cut above most backs on the field and should be the first centre picked for Round 1, as well as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s fullback back-up throughout the year.
Picked up where he left off at the World Cup, scoring a trademark try and making several powerful charges to put the Warriors on the front foot. Came off at halftime. Should establish himself as one of the game’s premier wingers in 2018.
Great to see the big fella back on the paddock for the first time since Round 19 last year. Looked to only be going at half pace but caused headaches for the Storm defence with every carry.
The rangy teenage back-rower looks to have filled out even more ahead of the 2018 season and put his hand up for a spot in the 17 with a busy outing.
After a patchy start, the long-serving lower-grader began to guide the Warriors around the park nicely, troubling the Storm with his long and short kicking game. Having halves depth of Lino’s quality is certainly a luxury for Kearney.