The Warriors fired a shot across the bow of the other 15 NRL club and a host of doubting critics with a superb 32-20 victory over South Sydney in Perth, starting 2018 in ideal fashion.
Maligned stars Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke led a stunning upset with dazzling attacking displays, but it was gritty defence and a determined engine-room effort that prevented a trademark capitulation.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck produced an incredible try-saver on opposing fullback Alex Johnston inside the first five minutes – a tackle commentator Andrew Voss declared an early contender for the best of 2018.
But a slew of early penalties eventually took their toll on the Warriors, with Rabbitohs winger Robert Jennings coming up with the assist for five-eighth Cody Walker to score the first NRL try at Optus Stadium.
The Warriors clicked into action out of nowhere, however, with Solomone Kata climbing to take a high ball before quick hands from Adam Blair saw back-row tyro Isaiah Papali’i dot down and keep dubious company by repeating ‘Dorguson’s’ video game-related try celebration.
More slick handling and a deft basketball pass from Tohu Harris paved the way for David Fusitu’a to put the underdogs in the lead soon afterwards.
Richie Kennar marked his maiden appearance for the Rabbitohs with a try courtesy of a brilliant tip-on from fellow recruit Dane Gagai to level the scores.
The penalty count – which finished 7-3 in Souths’ favour at halftime – threatened to bring the Warriors undone again, but they weathered a glut of Rabbitohs possession and reclaimed the scoreboard advantage through Sam Lisone’s first NRL try.
Souths seemed certain to level up just before the break, but Jennings was denied a try by a hot forward-pass call that sent Twitter into meltdown.
The Warriors compounded the tough call in the dying seconds of the first half courtesy of a piece of inspiration from Johnson, who sliced through the defensive line and threw a speculator to Fusitu’a to power over for his second.
Up 20-10 at the break, the Warriors survived an early Maumalo bungle and ignored a gift-wrapped two points before sending ‘Big Ken’ over in the corner via a well-worked set move seven minutes after the resumption.
The rugby league universe truly sat up and take notice when Tuivasa-Sheck came up with his second straight try-assist, this time for Solomone Kata, to set up a remarkable 30-10 scoreline.
That familiar pang of terror – you know the one, when the Warriors build a big lead then unravel – threatened as hour-mark approached. A sideways play-the-ball from Blair was followed by three straight ruck penalties to Souths and Kata’s sin-binning.
Kennar notched a double in the ensuing set, but the Warriors held together stoically thereafter until they had their full complement again.
Johnson edged the Warriors to an 18-point lead with five minutes left, and the club’s fans enjoyed the rare luxury of soaking up a win well before the fulltime whistle.
Walker’s second try late in the piece was purely academic.
Three hoodoos extinguished: their first win over Souths in seven games, a maiden win in Perth at their 10th attempt, and just their sixth win in 22 Round 1 games.
Johnson was untouchable at times; Luke was lauded for easily his best performance in a Warriors jumper. But James Gavet, Papali’i and the bench quartet were sensational, outplaying the Rabbitohs’ big pack by a mile.
Plenty of early doubts quelled and a container load of Aussie pundits with a hangi’s worth of humble mutton pie to eat.
But a lot to live up to moving forward – because that was the club’s best performance in at least a couple of years, and big expectations have already returned.
Warriors 32 (David Fusitu’a 2, Isaiah Papali’i, Sam Lisone, Ken Maumalo, Solomone Kata tries; Shaun Johnson 4 goals) d South Sydney Rabbitohs 20 (Richie Kennar 2, Cody Walker 2 tries; Adam Reynolds 2 goals) at Optus Stadium.