TWL RD 16: WARRIORS WELCOMED HOME WITH STIRRING WIN

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Say what you will about the Warriors’ chronic underachievement over 28 seasons, but this team has a habit of delivered on the biggest Mt Smart Stadium encounters.

The Auckland Warriors’ 25-22 defeat to Brisbane on premiership debut is arguably the most celebrated loss in the competition’s history; the club crushed Canberra in its first home finals match in 2002; the also-ran Warriors rolled the heavyweight Broncos in their 10th anniversary match in 2005; the ‘blackout’ semi-final in 2008 saw the eighth-placed Warriors dispose of the fourth-placed Roosters 30-13; the Warriors marked a historic double-header in 2018 with a dominant win over the Cowboys to go 5-0; and later that year Simon Mannering’s 300th game for the club and last at home garnered a gritty win over the Raiders.

And so it was again as the Warriors marked their emotional homecoming with a gritty defeat of Wests Tigers.

There was more gets-the-job-done Bernandino than champagne football, but the 22-2 result was nevertheless Spumante sweet for the packed house, a Warriors side that snapped a seven-match losing streak and first-time NRL head coach victor Stacey Jones after a 1,038-day Auckland hiatus.

The Warriors scored the bulk of their points in an eight-point burst during the first half, but the poise and control they should during a long scoreboard impasse in the second stanza was arguably one of the most pleasing aspects of performance.

The Warriors positively channelled the spine-tingling atmosphere and sense of occasion to dominate the opening 40 minutes – to the tune of 62 percent possession.

But despite a glut of attacking opportunities, the hosts were continually frustrated by the Tigers’ defensive scramble. The Warriors’ clunky attack (nor the rub of the green from the Bunker) wasn’t going to cure itself solely because of the welcoming surrounds.

A 26th-minute penalty goal to get the scoring underway pried the floodgates open, however.

Wayde Egan continued a marvellous first-half display with a clever piece of dummy-half play in the shadow of the Tigers’ goalposts, sending skipper Tohu Harris over for his first try since last May – and the Warriors’ first at Mt Smart since now-Tiger Ken Maumalo dotted down against Souths in Round 24, 2019.

The Tigers’ failure to tidy up a contested bomb from Shaun Johnson allowed fullback fill-in Chanel Harris-Tavita to dot down four minutes later.

A penalty goal thanks to a fractionally late Jazz Tevaga tackle on Jackson Hastings put the Tigers on the board at 14-2 after the halftime siren.

The second half meandered in comparison, but the Warriors went through their processes with a minimum of fuss and never looked like losing the ascendancy.

A penalty goal with 15 minutes left gave the Warriors a 14-point buffer and the win was capped by a Jesse Arthars try from another Johnson kick with a few minutes left.

The Warriors’ win marked their biggest winning margin since Todd Payten’s brief period at the helm, while they held a team try-less for the first time since the immediate post-COVID shutout of the Dragons in Gosford in 2020 – two stats that emphasise that the club is oh-so-well rid of Nathan Brown.

Every player lifted. Shaun Johnson’s energy, focus and control was outstanding – buzzkillers will use his performance to highlight the negative of some of his 2022 struggles, but his season-best display was such a spiritual boost – while Harris-Tavita was immense in Reece Walsh’s stead, Bunty Afoa celebrated his 100th NRL game in style and Addin Fonua-Blake was a powerhouse on the back of a COVID spell.

However the rest of the season pans out, this moment can never be taken away from us – and it will always be special. But we’ve got a few more trips to Penrose to come and a real chance to finish 2022 on a high. A late rally for the finals is surely out of reach – even if we are just six points outside the Top 8 and have a bye next week – but how good will it be to ride this high for the next fortnight?

Warriors 22 (Tohu Harris, Chanel Harris-Tavits, Jess Arthars tries; Shaun Johnson 5 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 2 (Adam Doueihi goal) at Mt Smart Stadium.

 

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