Thoughts and talking points from the Warriors’ gritty, convincing 26-4 win over the Tigers.
Back into the grind
The Warriors got back to what they’ve done best in 2018: beating teams into submission via their relentless engine-room unit, dominant back-three, superior fitness across the park and ability to pick the right moments to strike with the ball in hand.
The Tigers always shaped as a tough beat, with their three losses so far this season all coming by two points. But the visitors seemed resigned to defeat midway through the second half after only coming up with one try courtesy of a freakish show of strength from Mahe Fonua.
There were some glistening moments on attack for the Warriors, but their composure, tenacity and sting without the footy was the standout feature.
The Warriors’ record for conceding single-figure points totals in a season is four games (2007, ’08 and ’10); they’ve already achieved that three times in 2018. Just as tellingly, they failed to do it once in their past two campaigns.
Defence will underpin any success the Warriors have this year and, despite the Anzac Day debacle, they appear to have their house in order in that department.
— Michael Burgess (@mikeburgess99) May 5, 2018
And now we wait…
The victory, of course, may have come at a terrible cost, with Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson and Adam Blair all leaving the field during a catastrophic second-half period.
Blair is apparently OK after rolling his ankle, but Luke’s shoulder problem will surely mean time on the sidelines and a nation will be sweating on the outcome of scans on Johnson’s leg. Encouragingly, Johnson limped off under his own steam…or maybe we’re clutching at straws.
In Karl Lawton and Mason Lino, we know there’s adequate cover for the spine superstars. But if the Warriors are to make an imprint in September, ‘Bully’ and SJ have to be there.
The Warriors’ heavy injury toll already in 2018 has been overlooked thanks to their healthy win ratio and excellent depth – just eight players, including Luke, have featured in all nine games so far.
Warriors hope Issac Luke's shoulder injury isn't severe and Adam Blair was walking fine post-match despite rolling his ankle.
Bigger concerns over Shaun Johnson's ankle however, left on crutches and in moonboot. He and Luke going for scans tomorrow #NRLWarriorsTigers
— David Skipwith (@DavidSkipwith) May 5, 2018
Don’t call it bounce-back
The Warriors played down the magnitude of their 50-10 loss to the Storm in Round 8, but it must have been satisfying to emphatically put that performance behind them with such a dominant win.
It speaks volumes to the squad’s newfound confidence and self-belief, having also responded to a flat defeat to the Broncos with a heroic display against the Dragons. Such losses in previous seasons could have sent the Warriors spiralling.
For those stats geeks out there, we’ve delved through the archives and can revealed the 62-point turnaround is the third-biggest in the club’s history. In 2013 the Warriors countered a club-record 62-6 loss to Penrith with a 28-12 win over Newcastle a week later – a 72-point turnaround – while the following season they buried the shame of a 46-12 defeat to Sydney Roosters with a 42-0 shutout of Gold Coast for a 76-point reversal.
Laying down the Lawton
The story writes itself. In Round 17, 2016, Karl Lawton made his NRL debut for the Titans at Mount Smart Stadium (at centre) and suffered a shocking broken leg. The utility fought back to play 11 games in the top grade last season and was lured to the Warriors as a late addition in February to provide depth.
A standout in the ISP, the 22-year-old buried any Mount Smart demons that may have been creeping in the background with a brilliant, match-sealing double in the space of four minutes after coming off the bench for the injured Issac Luke.
Tough and level-headed with a bit of zip, Lawton is set to play a key role in coming weeks depending on the severity of Luke’s shoulder complaint, while a permanent spot in the 17 is not beyond him.
A try on debut with the @NZWarriors.
— NRL (@NRL) May 5, 2018
Warriors: "This is my home now" Lawton [Video] https://t.co/AUS8XDVQaP
Karl Lawton reflects on a successful club debut in the home win over the Tigers. https://t.co/5BBeCbsoDq
— rugbyleaguehub.com (@leaguehubcom) May 5, 2018
SJ a class above
Shaun Johnson put on an attacking masterclass before being put out of commission in the 69th minute.
Kicking things off with a gorgeous assist for David Fusitu’a to score, his gambles to run on the last repeatedly came off, including to spark a 60-metre movement he finished off for a crucial try – though it was a carbon-copy of that move that led to his injury.
Johnson, returning from a three-week break, looked to be moving a half-pace but was still virtually untouchable. As much as we admire Mason Lino, there can’t seriously still be a debate as to who the best No.7 at the club is.
— NRL (@NRL) May 5, 2018
Storm duo Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu are the NRL’s current benchmark, but in the 2018 value stakes Warriors wing pairing David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo aren’t far behind. Both were superb on Saturday night, each scoring a try and almost bagging doubles, and combining for over 300 metres.
We already knew ‘Fus’ was one of the best finishers around but he has taken it to another level playing on the end of a dominant backline, crossing 11 times in just nine games to head the competition. The 2018 tryscoring title and Francis Meli’s club record of 23 touchdowns (2003) are at his mercy.
But we are even more enamoured with Maumalo’s metamorphosis. While his snail-paced tryscoring strike-rate is difficult to ignore, he has been one of the Warriors’ most reliable performers – a compliment we wouldn’t have dreamed we’d be saying about Big Ken at the start of the season.
He’s averaging 145 metres per game and has racked up 23 tackle-breaks, while the once-error-prone behemoth has made just seven errors so far this season (and just five in his last eight outings) and is making some good decisions in defence.
Tough to pick a man of the match out of that @NZWarriors team effort – and TWL has sat on the fence by dishing out an even 8 to six players, including these two wing studs. #WarriorNation #ThisWarriorsLife #NRLWarriorsTigers #AirFusandBigKenhttps://t.co/1wSE7wXRUw
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) May 5, 2018
Up front grunt
Speaking of dynamic duos, starting props Bunty Afoa and Agnatius Paasi played all over their Tigers counterparts with a combined 31 hit-ups for 311 metres. Opposing front-rowers Ben Matulino and Sauaso Sue had just 10 carries for 98 metres between them.
Afoa, along with Maumalo, is in the conversation for the NRL’s most improved player in 2018, while Saturday night’s showing was off-season acquisition Paasi’s best for the Warriors to date, charging for a game-high 186 metres.
Sam Lisone and the returning James Gavet provided great back-up off the bench in a collective performance that was another big tick for the Warriors’ cleanout that saw front-rowers Matulino, Jacob Lillyman and Charlie Gubb depart.
With Albert Vete, Chris Satae and Ligi Sao shining whenever given the opportunity and gagging for another call-up, the club’s prop stocks have rarely looked healthier.