WARRIORS SHINE IN THE SHADOWS OF TRAGEDY

The Warriors provided some temporary cheer for a grieving nation trying to make sense of the incomprehensible tragedy that unfolded in Christchurch a day earlier, tearing the Canterbury Bulldogs apart 40-6 at Mount Smart Stadium.

A crowd of 18,795 – boosted by the club’s admirable decision on Saturday to make all remaining tickets free – revelled in the Warriors’ biggest-ever season-opening win, leaving a 34-18 victory over Parramatta 12 years ago in its dust.

The Bulldogs were appalling, but the Warriors can only play who are in front of them and they showed no mercy to the substandard visitors.

Adam Keighran, the player anointed as Shaun Johnson’s successor, set a new mark for most points by a Warrior on first-grade debut with 16 (Kevin Locke’s 10 points in 2009 was the modest former record), including a neat individual try in a strong outing.

Blake Green took to the chief playmaking duties like Mark Tookey to a buffet and laid on the opening try in the 14th minute. But it took a superb piece of anticipation and skill from Ken Maumalo to latch onto the halfback’s brilliant cross-field kick.

Green’s accuracy produced a second try just seven minutes later, David Fusitu’a climbing to bat the ball back for new right-side partner Solomone Kata to score.

Adam Keighran drilled the sideline conversion for his first points at NRL level and a 10-0 lead.

Keighran endeared himself to the Warriors faithful far more emphatically 10 minutes out from the break, slipping out of a tackle and dummying his way over for the Warriors’ third four-pointer.

After a tentative start – and an error only minutes earlier – the solo effort calmed the 21-year-old’s nerves and set him on course to receive a solid debut pass mark.

Just before halftime, Kata simultaneously steamrolled his army of critics and debunked This Warriors Life’s theory that the Warriors may struggle to put together long-range tries.

The maligned centre got on the outside of the Bulldogs’ defevnce on his own side of halfway and slipped a peach of an offload to Fusitu’a. The NRL’s top try-scorer of 2018 racked up his second assist of the game by linking with Nathaniel Roache, who outstripped the cover to score under the posts.

A 22-0 scoreline was probably beyond most fans’ most optimistic predictions, but the Warriors’ hunger for points only got more voracious in the second stanza.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck dummied and stepped through embarrassing Bulldogs goal-line defence in the 45th minute.

Kata was caught out defensively as the Bulldogs belatedly got on the board, ex-Penrith winger Christian Crichton crossing on club debut from a slick backline shift.

But Kata had his second after Tuivasa-Sheck’s speed again proved too hard for the Bulldogs’ defence to handle, while quick thinking from Keighran at dummy-half allowed Peta Hiku to slip over for a simple try on a short blindside.

Bunty Afoa, Tohu Harris, a reborn Sam Lisone and recruit Leeson Ah Mau headlined a dominant forward-pack performance, each tallying over 120 metres.

The back-three was typically outstanding, while the biggest individual positive may have been Kata’s blockbusting attacking performance.

Genuine tests are still to come – and they may not get them for another month with the Tigers, Sea Eagles and Titans next up on the schedule – but the Warriors could not have done much more to kick off 2019 in style.

Warriors 40 (Solomone Kata 2, Ken Maumalo, Adam Keighran, Nathaniel Roache, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Keighran 6 goals) defeated Canterbury Bulldogs 6 (Christian Crichton try; Kerrod Holland goal) at Mount Smart Stadium.

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